Interview: Why A Finance Management Platform Prioritizes Flexibility For Today's Active Retirees
Kindur VP of design & experience speaks to PSFK about how the digital platform works to increase transparency and accessibility when it comes to managing modern finances, designing user experiences in accordance with the behavior of today’s retirees to better meet their needs
While retirement used to imply a definite ending, today's retirees are continually redefining this stage of life in terms of how they are living as consumers, employees and families. Where retirement may once have been synonymous with end of employment, today's 60+ crowd is more likely instead to have a career change, perhaps supplementing finances with Airbnb hosting or Uber driving.
Kindur is a retirement financial management platform designed with these consumers in mind, focusing less on fixed points and instead employing a milestone-based approach that allows for flexibility around key retirement events, from electing social security to taking a first distribution from an IRA. Ahead of his appearance on the New York Fintech Week ‘Democratizing Finance,” Kindur's VP of experience and design, Reilly Carpenter, spoke to PSFK to help us learn more about how the digital platform works to increase transparency and accessibility when it comes to managing modern finances, designing user experiences around and integrated with the behavior of today's retirees to better meet their needs.
PSFK: What are some of the trends you’ve noticed in the finance space, regarding where innovation is heading and what consumers are demanding for their financial experiences?
Reilly Carpenter: Three trends are top of mind when I think about the last few years in financial services:
- A move towards transparency and alignment with the customer’s interests.
- Tapping into human behavior to build better financial products.
- The pendulum swinging from decoupling financial services back to bundling products into financial ecosystems.
Transparency has been an issue in financial services forever, and the industry was incentivized to keep it that way. After 2008, we saw consumers get smarter and start demanding more transparency while moving away from the types of financial products that burned them before. Now, new entrants are bringing transparency to business models and exploring new ways of capturing value that are more aligned with customer goals. One example is Lemonade, which is upfront about taking a flat monthly fee so it isn't incentivized to hold onto a customer’s money when it is time to pay claims.
Another trend that helps align financial services with consumer interests is using behavioral economics when designing products to align with natural behaviors, not exploit them. We think a lot at Kindur about people’s mental models for their money and how we can better align our experience to tap into those. One example of this that we’ve been seeing for years now is getting people to save. Bank of America’s “Keep the Change” is an oldie but goodie in this space, taking the coin jar behavior so many people have and building it right into how the product works. Digit is another great example of integrating saving into existing behavior, rather than trying to push customers to add a new behavior.
As fintech matures, the other thing we’re seeing is companies moving from reimagining one small aspect of financial services, like investing in ETFs or simplifying student loans, to bundling services and creating ecosystems for customers to manage money for a particular target customer more holistically. Marcus by Goldman Sachs is an example of combining personal loans and high-yield savings in one platform, and many robo-advisors are adding variations of banking products to their platforms.
At Kindur, we’re really interested in financial services centered around life stage and how we can package a number of products, like insurance and investments, together to meet the financial needs of a life stage in one easy relationship.
What does democratizing finance mean to you?
When I think about democratizing finance, I think about building approachability and accessibility into financial services. I commonly hear from customers that finance is intimidating, from the language you need to understand to the number of options available in any particular product category. Making finances approachable, which means using more human language and frameworks that fit with the way people live their lives, helps empower people to engage rather than shut down. And accessibility is all about using technology to find new distribution channels that open up options and create transparency in what’s available.
One area we’re focused on at Kindur is annuities, which have traditionally been sold through insurance salespeople. We’ve tried to make our product more approachable by stripping out many of the complex features and terms that make annuities confusing, to create a simpler product that delivers value customers want: stable retirement income. And rather than having to go to a salesperson, who may or may not have your best interests in mind, we offer the annuity directly to the consumer with technology that empowers them to decide if it’s a product that makes sense for their financial picture.
What role does design play in the realm of finances, and particularly in the consumer experience? What, ideally, should good design do in transforming and improving it?
Design is problem solving, so it has a critical role in finance if we want to democratize it. Good design is often invisible because it is about making the complex seem simple and considers the entire ecosystem of the experience, not just the UI on the screen. Using design, we have an opportunity to not just rethink digital experiences, but also challenge business models and assumptions that underly the way things have always been done.
When we talk about design, we often focus on UX, but business model design is an area that really interests me. Thinking through how value is delivered to the customer and what matters most to their goals, then imagining how the business can capitalize on that value in a way that is transparent and fair is the type of design finance needs most. You can make anything look pretty, but if the business model is broken, the experience will be broken.
The other element design brings to finance is humanity. Money can feel incredibly dry and impersonal, but our money is the means by which we live our lives. Design’s role is to find ways to advocate for that humanity so every part of a company can connect the dots to delivering value and solving problems for the end user.
Could you explain the work that you do at Kindur, and how that intersects with the above?
At Kindur, I’m tasked with building the best end-to-end customer experience we can, which requires bringing the customer to the forefront of our decisions and making sure everyone has empathy for the people we are trying to serve.
Some days, that looks like what you usually think of when you think design: sketching and prototyping, talking to customers or working with developers to solve unexpected issues in a particular flow. But others it looks like engaging the business people in the room in a dialogue about how a particular fee structure may impact the customer negatively or brainstorming with operations about how to work around a legacy system that puts undue burden on the customer.
What are some of the trends you’re noticing from baby boomers as they prepare for retirement? How do you help them and all of your clients develop and meet their goals?
One of the most interesting things I see in people preparing for retirement is people not wanting to retire. Today, people in their 60s still feel young, vibrant and active and are ready to take on new challenges and stretch themselves in new ways. Rather than planning to have a retirement party and head to the golf course, we see people wanting to start new careers, going back to school or transitioning from their full-time career to consulting part time.
It’s very common to see baby boomers becoming Uber drivers or Airbnb hosts. For Kindur, that means retirement isn’t a set moment in time, but rather a transition to a new phase of life that is hopefully characterized by more freedom and new opportunities to grow and connect with others. When you think about how that plays out for a financial plan, it means we need to consider how we can offer flexibility in planning to accommodate for whatever retirement has in store. For the first version of our product, we’ve explored a milestone-based approach that allows a couple to see how key retirement events, from electing social security to taking that first distribution from an IRA, play out over time as opposed to anchoring to a particular, fixed date.
What are some of the key points you hope to share on Anomaly’s Democratizing Finance panel?
Design is not just about a slick UI, it’s about tackling an ecosystem of problems rooted in legacy infrastructure, opaque business practices and outdated regulation. It is also a mindset for approaching how things can be done from the lens of the customer first. The rise of text-based and smart-home-based banking apps is a great example of this. There’s no interface other than a text message or verbal statement, no flashy UI, but it allows the customer to access their money, pay a bill or get an answer in the easiest, fastest way possible.
If we want to democratize finance, we have to get much closer to understanding our customers. Not just what they say they want, but how they think and behave. Building products and services that fit into people’s mental models and lives is the only way to truly democratize finance.
What does Kindur see happening 1-2 years out? What’s to come for the business as well as for the finance space in general, based on what you’re observing now?
We’re really excited to think about what lifestyle-based financial services look like as people live longer and as retirement preferences and tastes change. Health and wellness are more and more present in people’s lives, but it hasn’t necessarily become integrated with how we plan and manage our money. Living longer introduces a whole host of new financial challenges that are ripe to be solved with technology. Retirement is full of anxiety and worry about running out of money, and if we can reduce that anxiety by giving people a plan designed for a long life, simplify the products to get them there and automate the process along the way, that would be a really exciting future.
For more from Reilly, come hear him speak on a panel of finance pioneers, hosted by Anomaly, Hacking Finance and PSFK as part of New York Fintech Week. The conversation will feature startups and thinkers designing solutions to make finance fairer, more accessible and more inclusive and will take place this upcoming April 2 at Anomaly, tickets are free!