In what is a recurring feature, Finopotamus spotlights innovative women who are positively impacting technology applications in the credit union industry, and beyond.
For this issue, we visited with Plinqit’s Founder and CEO Kathleen Craig. The Ann Arbor, Mich.–based fintech offers an automated savings, intelligent content, peer comparison, and virtual account management platform to banks and credit unions.
By W.B. King
Since 2004, April has been Financial Literacy Month in the United States. While an important initiative, Kathleen Craig didn’t feel 30 days provided enough time to address the all-important and far-reaching issue of financial education. So, in 2015, she left her job as the vice president of consumer e-services at United Bank & Trust with the ambitious goal of providing a service that consumers and financial institutions could tap into year-round.
“Using that knowledge and experience working in the banking industry, I was inspired to build a one-of-a-kind savings platform that pays its users for learning about personal finances – a personal passion of mine,” Craig told Finopotamus.
Citing recent statistics from a survey conducted by the National Financial Educators Council (NFEC), she explained that the lack of financial knowledge is an expensive proposition for many Americans. The average estimated money loss reported in 2021 due to lack of personal finance knowledge was $1,389.06 per individual, or $352 billion total, she noted.
Additionally, nearly 20% of respondents said they lost over $2,500 over the prior year due to knowledge gaps.
“Student loan debt also continues to climb to never-before-seen highs. The national student loan debt topped $1.6 trillion this year with just under 44 million borrowers, but many young adults feel that they do not have a solid understanding of finance,” Craig continued. “In fact, according to a survey [from the National Foundation for Credit Counseling] allowing consumers to grade themselves on their knowledge of personal finance, 34% – more than 77 million people – gave themselves a grade of C, D, or worse, F.”
Promoting Financial Education
During her nearly six year tenure at United Bank & Trust time, Craig also served as a client experience officer. “It provided a unique perspective on the challenges financial institutions face,” and more importantly, what consumers “wanted” from a banking relationship.
For Craig, the answer as to what she believed consumers wanted was Plinqit, which was launched in 2015. The company, which employees 16 people, four of whom are tech-facing, counts more than 25 credit unions as clients and partners.
“I created Plinqit to help builders create solutions that truly help people in a way that is engaging and rewarding,” the founder and CEO explained. “For me, it was critical to create technology that consumes would want to use – and they are.”
Building off a recent $5 million Series A capital fund raising campaign, Craig said Plinqit, which has raised a total of $10 million in funding since launching, is growing at a “rapid pace.” The company has also integrated with Jack Henry’s Banno Digital Platform.
“We’ve been anticipating our relationship with Jack Henry, as their Banno Digital Toolkit is exactly what was needed to encompass the sophisticated, personal and seamless user experience we value,” Craig continued. “We also recently hit $5 million in total savings by Plinqit users, showing that consumers are actually using and engaging with the platform.
From this success, we are actively expanding our team. We recently added several key leadership positions and have plans to continue growing our staff.”
Encouraging Diverse Ideas
As a way to pay forward the guidance she received throughout her early life and career, Craig regularly shares her experience and knowledge with peers as well as those coming up behind her.
“I had several mentors and champions who encouraged me to take risks, believe in myself and gave me the courage to be an entrepreneur,” she continued. “From my father who is an entrepreneur; to my older brother who is a senior developer; to Ari and Paul, the founders of Zingerman’s Roadhouse, the restaurant and training company where I worked in my early 20s; I have had too many to name and am grateful. I am where I am because of them.”
A graduate of Eastern Michigan University where she earned a bachelor’s of business administration, Craig has served as a committee member for United Way’s Power of the Purse, is an advisor at WalletFi and is a member of the board of directors for the Association for Financial Technology.
While more women are working in technology today than when Craig began her career, the statistics are “severely lacking,” especially in fintech, she noted.
“This is even more the case with women-owned and women-founded fintechs,” she continued. “Fintechs with at least one female founder increased from 6% in 2010 to 30% in 2020, so progress is being made, but there’s still a long way to go.”
Noting the importance of diversity and inclusion, she said that it “comes as no surprise that teams with diversity in age, experience, race and gender can achieve better performance than their competition.” She added that her company is dedicated to building teams that “encourage creative, diverse ideas and backgrounds.”
Identifying Financial Knowledge Gaps
When asked what technology initiatives are catching her attention, Craig said buy now, pay later (BNPL) has become “one of the hottest new trends” in fintech.
“Several big card issuers have already launched their own versions of BPNL, and consumers are being exposed to the new trend through companies like PayPal, Afterpay and Klarna,” she said. “While many consumers are already using BNPL, there is significant consumer misunderstanding about the product.”
She pointed to a 2021 Lending Tree survey that found younger shoppers had a “greater tendency” not to think of BNPL as debt. “Whether they choose to implement a BNPL product or not, financial institutions can serve as a valuable resource of financial literacy and teach their accountholders to make more informed decisions about BNPL,” she added.
Plinqit’s mission, in part, is identifying financial knowledge gaps so consumers can avoid costly problems. To this end, Craig said the company is dedicated to promoting smarter financial decisions.
“With the rise in popularity of BNPL, from an education standpoint, credit unions can differentiate their brands by establishing themselves as their members’ go-to choice for financial literacy,” she noted.
“Credit unions are unique because of their strong member focus. Because of their reputation, they are uniquely positioned to provide their members with solid financial guidance and financial literacy tools that help them save and increase their understanding of their personal finances,” she continued. “After all, members want to improve their knowledge of finance. Credit unions can be that provider.”
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