Tag: Technology

We Lean on Each Other in Times of Crisis

If I had to distill the essence of MAF’s Rapid Response work into one word it would be: partnerships. Amidst the new social distancing, we’ve been able to come closer than ever to listen to one another and help each other during this unimaginable crisis.

Soon after the stay-at-home orders were given in March, we set out to help clients that we knew were going to be adversely impacted.

We heard from clients right away, anxious about losing income, not knowing how they were going to pay rent, buy food or even keep up with their monthly bills. We felt their concern and moved quickly to lift up a Rapid Response Fund on March 20th not really knowing the depth of the unfolding pandemic.

In the early moments of the crisis, the philanthropy field rallied to respond to this new challenge.

We partnered with foundations that stepped forward to support the communities they work with and care deeply about: college students, members of the creative economy, and immigrant families left out of the CARES Act. They worked to get money to us quickly, recognizing the urgency and helping us get money directly into the hands of those who needed it as fast as possible. I have never seen the grant process move so quickly, sprinting from our first conversation to commitment and disbursal within days. It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you’re clear-eyed and committed to the end goal.

While the fundraising was ongoing, our team was repurposing our systems and technology to disburse cash grants at scale.

We built an entirely new application process for each of the communities we set out to support, spending time to consider how we could equitably address the tremendous need that was out there. We made sure that in each application we asked the right set of questions with care and respect and took time to understand each applicant’s financial reality, strategies, and resources. With this, we were able to prioritize need: we knew that first come, first served only exaggerated systemic inequities and barriers to access, privileging those with the fastest internet and best information. We created an alternative that focused the resources we have on those who needed it the most. And, underlying this whole process, we ensured our new system was set up with the same steadfast commitment to processing sensitive financial data efficiently and securely.

Seven weeks into the quarantine, we’re now in the middle of providing $500 grants to over 20,000 people who are in desperate financial need.

It is inspiring to take stock of what we have accomplished with our partners:

  • 3 Rapid Response funds supporting college students, young creatives, and immigrant families
  • 23 foundations pooling resources across all three funds
  • $12M in total to provide people with emergency financial relief
  • 26 outreach partners who are connecting us with eligible immigrant families

With our partners beside us and our small but mighty staff of 29 MAFistas, we’ve been able to support:

  • 75,000+ individuals who signed up looking for help
  • 52,000+ completed pre-applications with insights about people’s financial situation
  • 8,000+ completed full applications on our secure platform
  • 5,500+ grants distributed and deposited into checking accounts

At every step, there has been a lot of careful and thoughtful work behind all of these numbers.

MAFistas stepped up to ensure that we built the right applications, used the right technology, and created the right process for each of the communities we’re helping – all done with care and urgency to help people in this moment of crisis. Why? Simply put: we have received over 7,000 emails, calls, tickets from people asking for help – we hear their stories, their cries for help – and that’s motivating staff to go above and beyond our normal work to show up for people in their time of need.

I can only say that it is truly humbling to witness such devotion.

With this kindness and compassion behind it, we are demonstrating the best of what technology and finance can be. And with our partners beside us, we are demonstrating what it means to show up for people – to help families in this moment of crisis not only with financial aid but, most importantly, a message of hope and solidarity that they are not alone.

You can support MAF’s Rapid Response Fund here.

New MyMAF Financial Education on Self-Employment

MAF’s clients often turn to creative strategy to manage their financial lives; faced with barriers to accessing formal income opportunities, our clients innovate. One such strategy we’ve seen is self-employment: 31% of our clients identified as being self-employed, small business owners, or contractors. Moreover, we’ve heard from our DACA clients that they face barriers in accessing formal employment opportunity. Self-employment allows individuals to capitalize on their strengths to overcome some of these barriers.

We’re excited to announce the release of a new feature in MyMAF to support clients on their journey toward self-employment. 

In September, the MAF Lab launched a new education content module in MyMAF app called How to be self-employed – alongside the launch of our MAF’s new 0% interest loan program to help people formalize self-employment into an LLC. This new product feature and program are both important parts of MAF’s broader efforts to support the innovations our clients develop in order to navigate their financial lives and formalize their business to generate steady income.

MyMAF’s How to be self-employed module combines education with tools to take action.

The new module covers all aspects of starting a small business, including setting a vision for self-employment, building a business model, formalizing self-employment through LLCs, and managing time as an entrepreneur. It’s the fourth financial education content module available in the app, adding to ones on credit, savings, and preparing for emergencies.

Our staff in-house wrote the content building on their expertise in supporting entrepreneurs to start their own business. We also sought the feedback from our peers at nonprofits who similarly strive to support entrepreneurs. Similar to MyMAF’s other financial education modules, How to be self-employed pairs expert content with recommended action items and resources to give individuals tangible tools to get started.

We aim to continue to support the creativity of our clients to create sustainable income solutions.

Introducing MAF’s new mobile app: MyMAF

MAF is excited to announce the launch of its new mobile app, MyMAF. MyMAF is a virtual financial coach designed to help low-income and immigrant families achieve their dreams and help MAF’s clients succeed financially in our programs.

We’ll be celebrating the launch of the MyMAF app, the MAF Lab’s first fintech product, on December 7th. Join us for the launch party to view a demo of MyMAF and learn about the inspiration for its development, from idea to fruition.

MyMAF fills an unmet need for the communities MAF serves.

Since day one, MAF’s goal has been to build pathways that allow hardworking families to realize their full economic potential. MAF’s seminal Lending Circles program has helped clients achieve their financial goals by building credit, but we’ve always had a larger vision to support our clients’ financial lives across their hierarchy of financial needs. We found financial coaching to be one of the most effective mechanisms to help people achieve their goals. However, in-person coaching is often resource intensive (for both coaches and clients) and difficult to scale. We realized that we could use the power of technology to bring financial coaching to more people in our community and serve their needs in a deeper way.

With MyMAF, members of our community are now able to obtain essential financial information and coaching at the reach of their fingertips.

MyMAF was built from MAF’s core values.

MAF’s work is founded on a few core values:

  • We meet people where they are, not where we think they should be
  • We build on what people have, no matter the shape or size
  • We respect the diverse communities we serve and recognize their hidden strengths

These values have informed the development of MAF’s programs and products from the beginning; they are also the foundations of this new app.

To meet clients where they are in their financial journey, we first recognize that our clients’ financial lives are inseparable from their complex backgrounds and personal aspirations. For example, a client without a Social Security Number has to take a different path for doing something as seemingly simple as pulling their credit report or applying for a credit card. An important goal of the app is to remove the stress from financial planning and help clients recognize that this is a tool to help them achieve their dreams. This is done at their convenience, allowing clients to decide when and where they plan and update personal financial goals – whether at home, waiting for the bus, or any other moment in their busy lives. As an added engagement feature, clients can interact with a virtual financial coach and receive financial tips and tricks to keep in mind as they navigate their journey with MyMAF. By building for clients’ unique contexts, MAF sets the stage for personal finance to feel empowering.

To respect our clients as the experts in their own lives, MyMAF gives clients the autonomy to direct their financial journey. Clients decide where they want to begin, whether it’s learning about credit or watching a video about exploring their investment options. The app also gives clients the option of choosing from 70+ action items to work towards, providing clients with a structure to create their own action plan. The app empowers clients to set the agenda based on what is most relevant to them and supports them with resources, tips, and motivation to get to their goal.

To build on our clients’ strengths, the app takes inspiration from what clients are already doing to manage their financial lives. Much like Lending Circles, the tips and action items in the app reflect informal strategies that clients currently use to overcome their financial barriers. This app gives clients the ability to choose from a wide breadth of options that are already working for them, rather than prescribing choices that don’t fit their contexts.

The author (R&D Lab Director) and UX/UI Designer test a prototype of MyMAF with a client.

MyMAF was built using evidence-based principles.

The MAF Lab, Mission Asset Fund’s R&D team, is committed to building products using design thinking, the industry standard for product development teams. Based on conversations with clients and MAFistas who have worked in this community for years, we identified the unique painpoints that our clients experience that other products don’t help them address. We then built and tested prototypes of the app’s features with 40+ users in Spanish and English, iterating those designs until we got all the details just right. Here’s the MAF Lab process we followed:

This process helped us identify and build features in the app that distinctly serve our clients. For example, during our user discovery process, we learned that some of our bilingual clients wanted the flexibility of accessing resources in both English and Spanish. To address this, we made the app available in both languages with the ability to easily switch between the two. The process for launching MyMAF app is one we plan to continue following in-house to develop new products and programs.

Lastly, evidence about effective financial coaching influenced the structure of MyMAF. Research shows that financial education is not sufficient to motivate behavior change; education must be tied to action. MAF incorporated this principle into the design of the app by placing action items after educational content to mirror users’ mental models of creating financial plans – and by sending motivating reminders to encourage users to stay on track with their financial plans. These design elements nudge clients to most effectively realize their financial goals.

MAF is built from the community, for the community.

By involving users in every step of our process, we sought to recognize the unique cultural background of our clients through the app.

MAF’s 10 years of serving low-income and immigrant families was foundational to developing the app. For example, our in-house client services team wrote all the content in our app, to address the questions they have been hearing in working with the community. For example, we offered users tips to help our clients answer questions like “How do I protect my finances if a family member is deported?” and issues like what steps to take when sending a money transfer to family or friends outside the U.S.  

MAF also designed the app to make our clients feel seen. MyMAF includes avatars, created by a designer from Mexico City, that reflect the faces of the diverse communities we serve. The app also includes photographs of real clients taken by our in-house designer and resident photographer. When we tested the app, the images were the first thing many clients noticed. Many told us that they identified with the people represented on the home screen and in the photos. This emotional connection to MyMAF will likely motivate our clients to continue engaging with the app’s financial tools.

Avatars in MyMAF to represent the community MAF serves

We’re just getting started.

MyMAF is a continuously improving product. We’re excited to get the app in the hands of our clients and hear their feedback as they use the app. We’re also measuring app usage and financial outcomes, to test our assumptions about the impact the app will have. Based on what we’ve learned so far, we’re already working on creating MyMAF 2.0 to give users more targeted tools to help them achieve their financial goals and make MAF’s financial products more broadly accessible.

Our plan is to continue iterating MyMAF to financially empower the low-income and immigrant families we serve nationally.

We also want to thank the philanthropic supporters of MyMAF: JPMorgan Chase Foundation, Tipping Point Community Foundation, Capital One, Twilio, and individual donors across the country.

MAF Lab: R&D for social good

It goes back to the earliest days at MAF, when Lending Circles was not yet a program available across the nation and when the conversation about financial capability only centered around savings. Our founders knew that to create programs and services that actually made a difference, you had to orient yourselves in the realities of people’s lives. That it matters where and how you design programs.

We get up in the morning to build programs that actually empower clients. To us, that means we don’t see clients as the problems that need to be solved.

What first started as side project – a relatively small participatory action study we called the Immigrant Financial Integration Initiative – has now become a distinguishing approach for the entire organization. This practice of listening is a core principle behind design thinking – a process that ensures that we are addressing users’ needs, building on their strengths, and creating products that will ultimately have real impact for the communities we serve.

That’s why we’re evolving our technology team into a Research and Development Lab: an innovation unit within MAF to build better programs and products to meet the needs of the communities we serve.

The goals of the MAF Lab are to:

  • Uncover pressing unmet needs of the communities we serve
  • Understand the practices, relationships, and resources of these communities
  • Expand the types of financial needs supported through MAF’s programs and products
  • Improve the relevance and usability of programs and products to address users’ needs
  • Share our research and experiences with other organizations
  • Provide research, design-thinking, and technology services to leading nonprofits, foundations, and corporations

The author (R&D Lab Manager) and UX/UI Designer test a prototype with a client in MAF HQ

MAF’s R&D process focuses on empathy and engagement with communities who are often left behind.

This approach involves conducting research to understand users’ needs and building programs and products to meet those needs. We’re bridging the best of the nonprofit and fintech worlds:

  • Our clients are diverse. We build products for people who are often left out of tech developments and formal financial markets.
  • As a direct services provider, we have a close relationship with our clients, so we build empathy with our users quickly and deeply.
  • We have the skillset to do our own user research in multiple languages, which allows clients to be heard and represented throughout our process.
  • Unusual for a nonprofit, we have the expertise in-house to conduct rigorous quantitative research – and use these emerging insights to inform our strategy and development.

With a strong track record of using best practices in research and design, launching the MAF R&D Lab will allow us to do more…and faster. Here’s what a typical process looks like for our team:

A virtuous research & development cycle means we research to assess strengths, understand needs, and then build products to leverage those strengths to meet those needs. But it doesn’t stop there. More research helps us assess how well our products are meeting those needs. That’s how we determine what’s missing or what needs to be refined.

For example: immediately following our 2017 DACA campaign, MAF launched a survey to program applicants to better understand the community of DACA recipients. We analyzed the data and are using it to launch new programs to help meet the financial needs that emerged from the survey (we even tested these programs with target community members first to make sure we got it right). We didn’t just use these insights internally – we shared the survey results with our funders and clients for their input. We’ll be sharing them on this blog in the coming weeks. This is the type of work that the R&D Lab will continue to do more of to better serve our clients and help peer organizations get access to information to help them better support their clients.

We’ve made a few changes to the team to help us evolve. The R&D Lab team recently moved out of MAF’s main office and into our own space, which we call Design Hub.

Our new office has helped us carve out a space to incubate products for the long-term (and gives us an excuse to draw all over the walls in the name of ideation). We’ve also increased our capacity to achieve an ambitious agenda that includes releasing a native mobile app this year and launching new loan programs. To shorten the sprints between designing and testing prototypes, we brought our design team in-house and trained ourselves in user research and testing. That meant investing in staff to help us collect and analyze more user data – and to reduce the build time of our tech developments. We have assembled a team of creative and data-savvy MAFistas to build products that matter to our clients.

Our team is bolstered by the support of our Technology Advisory Council, made up of seasoned leaders from tech companies advising us on all aspects of tech developments. The R&D Lab brings together MAF’s strengths as a direct service nonprofit, a financial services provider, a data-driven tech organization, and a force of social innovation.

Ultimately, the strength of the MAF R&D Lab comes from the trust we’ve built with clients. It’s trust that encourages them to open up about their dreams and fears. We will preserve that trust by continuing to ground our work in MAF’s values of respecting and empowering our clients.

 

MISSION ASSET FUND IS A 501C3 ORGANIZATION

TERMS OF USE   |   PRIVACY   |   CONTACT

Copyright © 2022 Mission Asset Fund. All Rights Reserved.

English