What if you could teach a six-year-old about money, investments and delayed gratification? There’s money to be made – and lives to be transformed – by teaching children and young adults to make smart money and life decisions. PlayMoolah, a Singapore-based financial literacy startup, does it using mobile apps and life-decision simulation.
In 2008, co-founders Min Xuan Lee and Audrey Tan were right in the middle of the US financial crisis and found themselves managing money for the first time as young adults. The financial crisis made them re-think money and how they managed their lifestyles. They saw their peers struggling with debt they’d potentially never pay off and wondered: “Are adults and children financially literate? Were parents talking to their children about money?” What they found out was shocking: only one in 10 families were actually having conversations about managing money with their children!
Says co-founder Audrey Lim, “As kids, they didn’t learn too much about money or the interventions were strictly text book based or school based. We also found out that parents played a huge role in how they handled money. But parents can’t teach kids if they themselves aren’t financially literate! So we also started thinking about how we can enable parents to play a greater role in teaching their children about managing money. And that’s how PlayMoolah was born”.
PlayMoolah is on a mission to tackle urban financial illiteracy and de-mystify money for children and young adults up to the age of 35. In just three short years, PlayMoolah has created a suite of mobile and web apps that allows children, their parents and young adults to learn about managing money and making big life decisions. They are helping parents and children collaborate with each other, while raising financial literacy as a family.
PlayMoolah’s latest offering WhyMoolah is a “life-simulator” which helps young adults plan their lives up to the age of 35. The game allows users to create an avatar and takes them through the different stages of life, while making decisions around getting married, buying their first home and other expenses. Players learn about other hidden costs, budget and managing finances along the way. The app is aimed at young adults and fresh graduates, who are at the cusp of making decisions which will impact their lives in the long term.
PlayMoolah is a very lean six-person team and has experienced a great amount of success so far – they have over 10,000 users worldwide and partnerships with leading banks like DBS and OCBC in Singapore. It licenses the softwares to financial institutions, which use it to help their customers make better financial decisions. The co-founders were also awarded the Young Women Innovators Award at the 2013 Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Women and the Economy Forum (WEF) in September 2013.
The co-founders, however, measure success based on how their products help to inspire better action and smarter decisions around money. “We define success by how we are helping to change the perception towards money. We meet customers who tell us: ‘I have learnt so much more about money through PlayMoolah; I wish I had known this before.’ And for WhyMoolah, one of our customers said: ‘I’ll definitely recommend all my friends to play it before they get married.’ Those are measures of success that we hold dear,” adds Audrey.
When asked about expansion to other markets, Audrey says, “We didn’t necessarily pick Singapore as our main market. We started in the US sensing a need there and then we found that even in Asia there is a need around teaching children and young people about money. We are looking to solve the issue of urban financial illiteracy, especially in places like Singapore where people tend to have high incomes. We are looking to expand to other urbanized markets like Indonesia and other parts of Asia.” In Indonesia, PlayMoolah also organized free workshops at a micro-school for street-children as a philanthropic initiative from the team. It also helped to prove that financial literacy is applicable to both rich and poor, although the interventions and methods may be very different.
In the near future, WhyMoolah is looking to expand their simulator to include scenarios up to early 50s and retirement. They aim to help young adults grow out of the “live for today” mindset and plan their long-term investments, as well as their children’s education.
When asked about her experience as a female tech-entrepreneur, Audrey says, “It’s great to find there are no limits, even as a female entrepreneur. We see that when you have a pure intent with a good mission, it takes you very far. And I am a huge believer that when you have a specific intention, you end up attracting people with similar goals and missions who help you along the way.”
PlayMoolah’s big audacious goal is to be able to have a touch-point with every child and parent around the world, rich or poor, and include them in the movement towards creating healthy attitudes and habits around money. If they succeed in achieving that goal, they may be well on their way to helping society avoid the next big financial collapse!