Do you have at least $400 to cover an emergency expense? Nearly half of Americans don’t — and they’d have to resort to selling possessions or borrowing money to pay the bill. 8 in 10 Americans are worried about their lack of savings. Income volatility has been increasing since the early 1990s, and the poorest Americans have suffered the most in this shift. Living paycheck-to-uncertain-paycheck, 4 in 10 Americans have trouble making bill payments on a monthly basis. And for those who’ve taken out a loan or used credit cards to manage expenses, more than a third have debt in collections.
At Venture Lab, we look at the problems people around the world face financially, and we invest in fintech startups that can create solutions that help the people who need it most. In the U.S., we focus first and foremost on how fintech can serve the 138 million Americans who struggle with financial health.
We see four core problems to solve in the U.S. — and a few startups that are taking them on:
1) How can Americans’ earnings match their needs?
Consumers in the U.S. have always dealt with inconsistent cash flows and paycheck cycles, but there’s potential for fintech to make the inflows of money smoother and easier to access when needed.
One of our favorites in the space is Even, which reduces daily wage earners’ income volatility and provides access to stable, predictable cash flows through cash advances. Benefits management is another area where fintechs could potentially disrupt a stagnant industry, with startups like Propel aiming to digitize the electronic benefits transfer process.
The potential here is massive, as daily wage earners and recipients of aid are often among the most financially vulnerable citizens. We’re excited to see more innovation in this space, especially focusing on providing more flexible access to funding when customers need it.
2) How can Americans best manage their costs?
It can be difficult for consumers to balance short-term needs with long-term priorities, especially with complicated interest rates and asynchronous billing cycles.
We believe fintechs can take the wealth of data that customers have and use technology to simplify the process. One company that has done this well is EarnUp, which prioritizes and pays customers’ obligations for them. By getting a holistic view of the customer’s payments, EarnUp can take the hard work out of understanding monthly expenses.
Startups can also provide support by reducing the expenses that many consumers face just for having low balances. Dave, for example, helps customers budget monthly and then provides a cash advance to prevent overdraft fees. Given the difficulties of managing variable cash flows and expenses, there are many ways to use tech to solve this problem for consumers.
3) How can Americans build short-term resilience?
Far too many consumers aren’t prepared for an unexpected expense or loss of income, and there’s room for more services to make these shocks less stressful for customers. Many possible solutions could do the trick: income or job loss insurance, automated savings, or fair short-term credit.
Within savings, we love the work that Digit is doing, leveraging automation and machine learning to help people save flexible amounts each month. SafetyNet approaches the problem from a different angle, providing insurance to consumers to cover them if they lose their job. In uncertain times, helping people stay resilient is a large market, and we believe there’s room for multiple winners to leverage tech in this space.
4) How can Americans build lasting health and wealth?
Our portfolio includes several players that build resilience in the face of damaged credit and burdensome debt, like self lender. These companies help customers recover from bad credit scores and build up their credit profiles over time.
Building financial health often includes acquiring assets — such as a home — that can provide more security. But the U.S. is going through an affordable housing crisis, as highlighted in Matthew Desmond’s Evicted. Fortunately, startups like Hurry Home have begun to tackle this problem.
Building home ownership, through rent-to-own agreements or new sources of financing, would allow customers to have lasting assets that could protect them from financial hardship. We’re also excited about startups that are helping build security through long-term savings. While long-term savings and home ownership are typically reserved for high-income customers, we’re interested in startups that are focused on the underserved.
At Venture Lab, we’re excited to see fintech used as a force for social good and startups that are solving today’s most pressing financial problems — not just in the U.S. but around the world. We’re seeing financial health become a priority in markets globally, and these U.S. startups are often at the forefront of innovation on the topic. We look forward to seeing what’s ahead for these innovators as they build solutions that can make the American dream accessible to everyone.
Amee Parbhoo, Aakash Shah, Reilly Kiernan, and Vikas Raj contributed to this article.