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How a crazy idea turned into a successful business

Do me a favour. Pick up your phone and have a look at your apps.

Nestled among your many photos, streaming and email apps you’ll have at least one social media app and mostly likely a savings or bank app.

Now imagine these two were combined; suddenly you have the ability to track your spending in a social environment. You can pay back your friends and remind other friends that they still owe you for last Saturday’s long lunch.

You’re now operating in a world where tracking your spending and managing your saving isn’t only easy – it’s intuitive, it’s social and quite literally in your hands.

This dream was the “aha” moment which led Shahirah Gardner, co-founder of award-winning personal finance app, Finch, to sell up her home and pursue her idea of developing a social-payments app.

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“A lot of people compare Finch to a Venmo, a Splitwise and a Mint combined. We took one step further and actually extended that into the rest of their financial journey and considered how can we consider growing with these customers over time as their financial priorities inevitably changed?” Gardner told Yahoo Finance.

“When we put this [Finch] business model together, we realised that this combination of social and financial was quite unique and we believed that to be the key to financial awareness and empowerment in the younger generation.”

Venmo allows users to pay friends, while Splitwise offers more advanced bill-splitting tools and allows users to settle-up through Venmo or PayPal. Then there’s Mint, the personal finance app which tracks your spending and saving.

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An app which combined the best parts of these three was a compelling idea backed up by a substantial – and to some people, crazy – amount of faith.

It took 16 months and the sale of Gardner’s San Francisco flat to make Finch a reality.

Nevertheless, “We thought this idea had legs.”

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The thing is; millennials’ financial goals aren’t necessarily the same as their parents’, grandparents’ or even their peers’, Gardner believes.

For example, millennials’ aren’t just taking out loans, they’re financing a holiday. They don’t need a mortgage, they need an affordable apartment. They’re saving up to move out of home, but they also refuse to believe smashed avocado on toast is a privilege.

But no one – not even financial advisers – was offering advice catering to these goals, according to Gardner and it’s still the thing that frustrates her the most about personal finance.

“The lack of options particularly as a millennial; our financial values and our goals are constantly changing. I think financial advisers try to categorise us into one bucket or type of customer and as a result the advice that comes out is not as customised as I would love to see,” she said.

“I would love to see really personalised, customised, contextualised advice based on real financial profiles and also in a slightly non-judgmental way.”

To her, it comes down to embracing millennials’ definition of financial success.

That’s where Finch comes in.

“What we’re doing is we’re meeting customers around the behaviours that they’re doing today which is primarily socialising and then growing with them over time,” Gardner explained.

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“The way we do that is that we focus on the behaviours rather than the products and that means that when they’re ready for financial advice or tips or recommendations or services, we are there at the exact point that they need that.”

Prior to Finch most personal finance apps were run by banks or didn’t have the multi-use capability offered by Finch, says Gardner.

“[We] realised that there wasn’t anything like that in the market other than what the banks were offering.

“At the same time, we realised there was quite a big disconnect with the millennial generation and what the banks were providing, particularly in the way of what we value financially, what our goals were and how.. there was quite a gap in the market,” she said.

“We decided to build something that filled that, that combined social, that combined financial and really reimagining that entire customer experience for the millennial generation.”

The next steps? Making savings a game.

The app has already won a major fintech award, the Finnie award for Excellence in Digital Wallets, but Gardner isn’t resting on her laurels.

She believes that making savings a game could be the key to frictionless wealth development.

There are plans for Finch to move further from social payments into personal finance by flipping social spending into financial insights.

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Users would be able to see their guilty pleasures, favourite stores and even benchmark that spending against their peers. This would then build into an “okay-to-spend” measurement.

“The idea or the rationale behind that is we can show their financial world in a way that is meaningful to them.

“What we realised is that sometimes users don’t need the view of their entire financial world, they just need a view of the world that is relevant, that they’re living in right now which is predominantly socialising and trying to take control of that discretionary spending.”