Alexander Fung: Helping parents raise money smart kidsJanuary 12, 2017
By Sheryl Smolkin
Today I’m interviewing Alexander Fung for savewithspp.com. In 2015 Alexander graduated from the Goodman School of Business at Brock University where he studied corporate and personal finance. He has worked as an analyst at Scotiabank and Fidelity Investments Canada. But first and foremost, he is an entrepreneur and app developer whose mission in life is to help parents raise money smart kids.
His app Dollarwise was awarded third place at the Canadian Personal Finance Conference and second place at the International Payment Conference, both held in Toronto.
Thanks for talking to me today Alexander.
Hi, Sheryl, thanks a lot for having me.
Q: You participated in The Founders Institute Program from January to June 2016. Can you tell me about the program and what you learned?
A: The Founder Institute is the world’s largest pre-seed accelerator in the world based in Silicon Valley. The purpose is to validate business ideas and then actually launch a product that helps provide some value to users. I was one of 17 people who graduated in the Toronto cohort out of about 65 companies that entered.
Q: Why do you think that parents often don’t teach their children good money habits?
A: Honestly, it’s a bit of a taboo topic. I know that as I was growing up my mom and dad hardly ever talked to me about money. Theythink kids should just be focused on school and that’s it, but in reality money is crucial in every person’s life – whether you’re saving for a wedding, saving for a vacation or buying presents for parents and family members. Money is such an essential subject to understand.
Q: Why did you decide to develop a tool to help parents and their children improve financial literacy?
A: When I was eight years old. I decided to use my cash allowances to buy myself a video game without my parents’ permission. When they found out, they were absolutely furious. What I learned from that experience was that I made an irrational decision and I should’ve talked to them about it before making the purchase. So, that event really motivated me to study finance and work in the industry.
Q: Let’s say traditionally parents give kids a cash allowance, and require that the money be used in a specific way, i.e. 25% for charity; 50% for expenses like bus fares and lunches; and 25% for fun. In your view, why isn’t this simple approach good enough?
A. The problem with a cash allowance is that it’s really hard to track. For example, a parent says, “Hey John you can’t spend more than $20 on transportation.” But the kid might not comply and parents can’t keep them accountable.
Also, when you use cash allowance sometimes kids lose the money and it’s gone. When it’s misplaced, it’s gone forever really. Whereas if you use a debit card and you lose it, you can call your bank and they can lock it and your money is safe. So it’s that accountability and keeping track of kids’ behaviors that money can’t really provide.
Q: Tell me about Dollarwise and how exactly it works.
A: Dollarwise helps parents to teach their kids good money habits using a debit card and a mobile app. But unlike a traditional bank we want to make it fun and educational. We’re in discussions right now with institutions that have parents and families as clients and/or members, and we want to help them to provide more value to their clients.
Q: But how does Dollarwise itself work? What does it do?
A: It’s an application where parents are able to set up their assigned list of chores for kids to complete, and they can assign dollar values. When the kids open the app they see the list, they can complete tasks, and when their parents verify that the job’s well done, the money can be transferred into the child’s account. The application also allows children to set saving and spending goals for themselves, see where their money goes and see rules established by their parents.
Q: What’s the value proposition for families?
A: Parents are able to save time, build better relationships, and avoid costly mistakes that the kids may make. When I was growing up I got a cash allowance at infrequent intervals and I usually spent it right away.
Q: So let me get this straight then. The parents can enter data about how much they are going to pay for tasks assigned to the child and how money can be spent. Then the child can go into the same app, and see what their parents want them to do and check off a task once they have done it. Is that correct?
A: Yes. And when the task has been properly completed the real money actually goes into the child’s bank account from the parents’ account.
Q: What’s the value proposition for financial institutions here?
A: We believe Dollarwise will help institutions attract and retain clients at a lower cost.
Q: How does the program help both children and their parents set goals and track how the child spends money?
A: Let’s say John sees a pair of shoes that he wants at Footlocker, but he doesn’t have enough money. Typically what he would do is keep nagging his parents until they give him money to buy his shoes. Or he can set a goal using the Dollarwise application that records what he is saving for, how much it will cost and how much he is planning to save each week. And his parents are able to open the application to see his goals and monitor how he is doing.
Q: You’ve noted on the website that the children are recognized for having good and consistent behavior with your unique badge and star system. How does that work?
A: Parents can customize some of the badges the app will award based on their children’s individual goals and achievements.
Q: What kind of tools does each child require to use the app?
A: Actually all they need is a debit card. They don’t necessarily need a phone. When they get home they can always log on to the computer or their iPad to see their progress. But parents usually have phones so they can set the goals, set restrictions and send money to their kids’ accounts.
Q: What kind of debit card are they going to get? Will they get a debit card from a specific financial institution?
A: Absolutely. The original plan was to issue our own debit card, but we learned it is too expensive and doesn’t make economic sense. Institutions will just issue their own debit cards to the kids and to the parents.
Q: Have you tested the program with parents and kids? How do they react?
A: Within six months we’ve tested our app on over 300 parents and kids. After our fourth revision feedback has been a lot more positive. They absolutely love it. Some parents told me that their kids have asked them if they could do additional chores around the house so they can earn more money to save and buy something they actually want instead of begging their parents for more money to buy stuff.
Q: If a parent wanted to purchase a program today where could they buy it?
A: Right now we are in the testing phase. If they wanted to sign up they could go to our website at Dollarwise.co and just hit the “subscribe button,” give us their name and email, and someone on our team will follow-up with them.
Q: But if you don’t actually have a relationship with a financial institution yet, how can you issue debit cards?
A: Right now we’re testing the prototype. So they can’t use the application right now, but they get the prototype and they can see how it looks and how it feels.
Q: How much are you going to charge parents?
A: It will be free for parents and kids. Financial institutions will pay us for a white label version of the app to which their own branding can be added.
Well, that sounds really interesting. I wish you luck. Thanks for talking to me today, Andrew.
Thank you so much Sheryl.
This is an edited transcript of a podcast interview recorded in December 2016.
Flipp app is the easy way to browse flyersJanuary 15, 2015
By Sheryl Smolkin
I like a bargain as much as the next person, but I must confess I have a long way to go when it comes to browsing flyers for competitive prices and making sure I am in the right place at the right time to pay the lowest price for the groceries and household items we use regularly.
I never had the time to carefully peruse every sale supplement that is stuffed into my mailbox and since we cancelled print copies of the newspaper and signed up for the Toronto Star Replica Edition and Globe2Go Digital Replica Edition, I don’t even see most of them regularly.
That’s why I was intrigued by the reference by Squawkfox, one of my favourite bloggers to the Flipp app which allows users to browse the brands they love, clip items straight to their shopping list, and highlight top deals across flyers. The app is available for Apple (The App Store), Android (Google play) and BlackBerry (BlackBerry World) phones and tablets and can be downloaded for free.
I recently added the app to both my BlackBerry and my iPad. I was asked to enter my postal code and to give the app permission to update regularly even when I am not using Flipp. This ensures that the online flyers displayed relate to places in my geographical area where I might typically shop.
Just for fun, I put in the Saskatchewan Pension Plan’s postal code, SOL 1S0. This sent me to a screen with thumbprints of 62 current flyers. In the top right hand corner it noted that the list was updated 26 minutes ago. You can open any flyer to full screen size to see exactly the same pictures and information as in the flyers stuffed in your daily newspaper.
The first thing I noticed was that the majority of the stores were familiar national chains such as Toys ‘R Us, Hudson’s Bay, The Source, Pet Smart and M&M meats. Since SPP is located in Kindersley Saskatchewan, anyone living there would have to drive about 200 km to Saskatoon to take advantage of specials at Hudson’s Bay or Pet Smart, but The Source does have an outlet in Kindersley. Also Hudson’s Bay has online shopping for some sale items.
When it comes to groceries, there is a Walmart, Extra Foods and a Co-op in Kindersley, but again to shop at the Real Canadian Superstore consumers would have to hit the road. And the IGA in Leader, Saskatchewan about an hour away isn’t currently listed at all. But I was able to request that it be added to my list.
In order to create a list of items you want to buy, all you have to do is open a flyer, press on the item which will then be circled in yellow. When you go back to the flyers screen and touch “clippings,” it will send you to a screen where your clippings appear under the name of each store.
You can edit the list by tapping “edit” on the top right hand corner of the screen and then a “trash can” will appear on your clipping and by touching it, the item will disappear. You can even ask to be notified when clippings will expire soon and when you are near a store with specials you have clipped.
Although I originally downloaded Flipp to my BlackBerry, I much prefer using it on the iPad because it has a much bigger screen. However, that means in order to effectively take advantage of the app I would have to carry the iPad around with me most of the time. That’s not really convenient because it doesn’t fit in my purse, it is breakable and it can easily be stolen. Also, I don’t have an iPad data plan, so unless there is free wifi where I shop, I’m out of luck.
Nevertheless, I think Flipp on a smartphone could be very useful for people in larger urban centres where there are a broad range of stores that regularly send out flyers. For example, I put in my Toronto area code and my two favourite grocery stores Longos and Sobeys were listed along with other major chain and specialty stores.
Whether you use Flipp occasionally when you are looking for particular items at a good price or when you make your weekly grocery list, it is an easy to use, practical app. Of course if your perennial favourite is Costco (which is not on the list), you can check their website, sign up for emails or enjoy an old-fashioned stroll around the store munching on free samples while you compare prices.
Budget-friendly holiday giftsDecember 13, 2013
By Sheryl Smolkin
Christmas can be an expensive time of year. You have to come up with presents for your parents, spouse, kids, cousins, aunts and uncles. But you may also want to give small but meaningful gifts to numerous other people including helpful neighbours, your children’s teachers, the mailman and your hairdresser.
Where families are large and it is impossible to buy for everyone, it can help to pick names so you only have to buy one more expensive gift rather than a dozen smaller items. Another approach is outside of immediate family, to only give gifts to children under a certain age – say 16 or 18.
However, you may still end up with a long list and an overloaded credit cart. That can be a real problem come January when you have to top up your retirement savings. Here are some ideas for less expensive gift options that will satisfy everyone on your list.
- Food gifts: If you make the best banana bread in town, whip up a couple of batches, wrap them with pretty cellophane and ribbons and give them to people who always finish the last slice when you bring your speciality to a pot luck dinner.
- Coffee cards: As a rule I’m not a big fan of gift cards because they always seem like an afterthought and people tend to lose them. But many of us need our daily coffee fix and fancy specialty coffees can cost $5 or more. Find out if intended recipients are Tim Horton’s or Starbucks fans and make your purchase accordingly.
- Gift baskets: Gift baskets can contain anything from yummy treats to bath and beauty supplies. If you purchase baskets already made up, they cost much more than the contents which are often meagre once you remove all the packaging. Bulk stores and craft stores sell almost everything you need to make your own gift baskets for a reasonable price.
- Child care: Young parents with small children and big mortgages generally don’t get a night to themselves very often. Offer to babysit so they can go out for a quiet dinner or agree to take the kids for a weekend so they can plan a mini-vacation out of town.
- Consignment stores: Kids stuff is often gently used because children grow out of their clothes and toys long before they wear out. My daughter recently found a great pair of red winter boots in perfect condition for our granddaughter for only a few dollars at a consignment store.
- Business cards: How often have you wanted to exchange telephone numbers or email addresses with someone but couldn’t find a pen or a piece of paper? Business cards are handy to have whether you are a teenager, stay at home Mom or a small business owner. Card stock is available from any office supplies store and you can download templates for your colour or black and white printer.
- Magazine subscriptions: Magazine subscriptions are a great inexpensive gift that keeps on giving for a whole year. For example a new subscription to Chatelaine is only $14.95 for 12 issues and it includes access to a digital edition you can download on your iPad.
- Potted plant: Cut flowers will brighten up the house, particularly in the depths of winter but potted plants will last a lot longer if properly cared for. In fact by February, I usually toss out my poinsettia because I’m more than ready for daffodils and hyacinths. Most grocery and gourmet stores have a great selection of seasonal plants.
- Groupon: You can purchase discount coupons for half off or more on Groupon and other similar sites. Spa, haircut, belly dancing classes or dance lessons anyone?
- Kitchen gadgets: Spatulas, corkscrews, vegetable peelers, bag clips, tongs, whisks or a turkey baster. A trip to a dollar store, department store or specialty kitchen store can uncover a treasure trove of kitchen gadgets in all price ranges for stocking stuffers.
Whatever items you decide on for the people on your list, consider starting your shopping early and buying at least some items online. Companies like Amazon and Chapters deliver for free for orders above a certain amount and it sure beats finding a parking spot and carrying heavy bags around a mall.
If your friends or relatives live out of town, the added advantage is you can have a wrapped package delivered directly to them.
Do you have any ideas for inexpensive Christmas gifts that will wow your friends and relatives? Share your money saving tips with us at http://wp.me/P1YR2T-JR and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card. And remember to put a dollar in the retirement savings jar every time you use one of our money-saving ideas.
Beginning in January we will be mixing things up a bit, and in addition to blogs that discuss ways to save money so you can save more for retirement, we will be interviewing our favourite financial bloggers, reviewing books that will help you better manage your finances and rolling out a monthly Retirement Savings 101 series.
The team at Saskatchewan Pension Plan wishes you a happy, healthy holiday season.