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‘The platform has to be as malleable as the families that use it’: How Till banks families of all kinds

  • Till is stepping into the booming field of family banking with plans to become financial training wheels for kids.
  • But defining what a family actually is is no easy feat.
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‘The platform has to be as malleable as the families that use it’: How Till banks families of all kinds

In April, Till launched its new challenger bank for families with kids ages 8 to 18. The company wants to become the financial training wheels for kids.

Till offers an FDIC insured bank account through its partnership with Coastal Community Bank. Parents sign up, link their account, and fund it. After that, agency is handed over to the kid.

“We truly believe that to create a successfully financially literate young person, you need to give them more opportunities to spend,” said Taylor Burton, co-founder of Till Financial.

More parents are putting emphasis on teaching their kids how to better manage their finances. 83% of parents today say they have open discussions with their children about their finances, according to research by Bank of America into affluent parents and future parents as part of its Hindsight is 20/20 Personal Finance Report. Conversely, only 51% said they had conversations like these with their own parents. 

Parents also want to pass on financial lessons to their own kids. 92% of the respondents said they want to teach their kids about managing credit cards and credit card debt, while 90% of respondents said they want to teach their kids to save and invest for retirement.

We’re seeing a similar attitude from kids as well. 97% of teens are expressing that they want a higher level of financial literacy, according to a study by teen challenger bank Step.

The growing interest in financial independence for children seems pretty solid at this point. And with that, companies from different sectors are stepping into the space.

In October, Chase released Chase First Banking in collaboration with challenger bank Greenlight. Through the account, parents can monitor their kids’ spending, manage allowances, and assign chores. In less than six months, Step, meanwhile, surpassed 1.5 million users. 

Most recently, Verizon announced last week it’s creating a challenger bank for families. Meanwhile, a couple of days ago Stash acquired PayGrade, a financial literacy platform for students in kindergarten through high school.

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Through Till’s platform, kids can have both a digital and physical card, though the platform is primarily designed to fit digital-first needs. Most kids under 16 don’t have a physical wallet but do have a smartphone.

Parents can still go into the account and set up saving goals and contracts with their kids to show how the money should move. But the goal is to put the actual action of spending into the kids’ hands. 

All three of the co-founders of Till have kids. Burton himself is a father of two toddlers, CTO Brian Chemel has three kids between the ages 8 to 16, and CEO Princince has kids who are already out of college. 

The three managed to pool their experiences as parents, and in that way, pinpoint what the financial needs of each stage may be. 

“I think that having that perspective across the gamut has been really helpful as we designed this collaborative family banking tool,” said Burton.

One thing that Till is very clear about is not being a forever bank. When customers hit an age of maturity -- usually between 18 to 21 -- the company hands them over to its ‘launch offers market’, where they can get special deals for other financial solutions that may be relevant at that point. A couple of examples Burton gives are SoFi for a first college loan and Petal Card for a first credit card experience.

“When you try to service every customer, you end up failing all customers,” said Burton. “So we're really focused on that time when the young person is at home.” 

Till still has some obstacles to overcome, though. For one, when you’re banking kids, you’re also banking their legal guardian. One thing that’s clear today is that the nuclear family is only one type of family. Banking for families can take a lot of different forms. According to Burton, guardians can be anything from single parents, to grandparents, to foster parents.

“Not every family is a mom and a dad with 1.98 kids,” said Burton. “The look and feel of the American family is changing rapidly.”

Till has to constantly pay attention to different types of families that come to the company, and adjust the platform to suit any unique needs they may have.

For now, that means giving users the ability to adjust the features as much as possible. One of the more common examples Burton gives is allowing for extended family to enter the account.

“So instead of Grandma getting you the sweater that you wear, you can say, ‘I'm saving for XYZ computer,’ and then she can actually go into our platform and contribute,” said Burton.

Another challenge is matching the platform to the customers in terms of guardian control. 

According to Burton, the company found that rather than guardians wanting as much control as possible of their childrens’ finances, the ideal level of control tends to differ from person to person. That means Till has to find a way to adjust its platform to meet this demand.

“[Adjusting the level of control] becomes a complex settings feature,” said Burton. “You have to make the platform as malleable as the various families that are using it.”

In terms of future plans, for now Till is still a young company made up of only 10 people. So Burton says it’s mostly focused on staying open to suggestions. And so far, there’s been a lot of them.

One example he mentions is entrepreneurship, which is becoming an increasingly popular goal among kids.

“There's this new wave of young people who grew up watching Shark Tank at home, and have grown up seeing the entrepreneur put on a pedestal, and they're not going to wait until college to jump into it,” said Burton. “One thing you’re going to see us really beef up is feature support to help budding entrepreneurs run and manage their own businesses.”

But there are always more ideas from customers coming in. So far, the challenger bank has had tens of thousands of kids write to them. 

“We're just making sure we're listening right now,” said Burton. “We're forming a panel of these kids so that when we build things, they're going to be things they actually want to use.”

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