Play Money: Lessons From nimbl on Designing Financial Services For Young People

I vividly recall the moment I was introduced to cursive writing. Learning meant repetition on a blackboard, and I still remember the cakey texture the chalk left on my small fingers. I can also recall early geometry and algebra lessons, where shapes and tiles helped translate abstract concepts into something tangible. I even remember being asked at age eight to imagine my dream job – I wasn’t quite sure what it meant at the time, but I was certain I wanted to be a courtroom judge. One thing that I can’t recall, however, is when I first learned about money.

While six-year-old me was a one-time thief from the family change jar, and at seven I was making what I considered significant purchases at the corner shop, I’m not certain I ever had a formal introduction to or education about the concept of money. It was just always there – it was a means to get what I wanted.

I recently met with Clint Wilson – founder and CEO of nimbl – who is leading the charge to change the way children learn and interact with money. Launched in 2016, nimbl is a UK-based fintech organization that provides tools for 8-18 year olds to manage their money. Built on the premise that children learn by doing, experiencing, and making mistakes, nimbl is a platform for education and exploration, and, importantly, it is built for the digital economy. As payments shift from notes and coins to figures on screens, touchless transactions, and alternative currencies, our conceptual and cultural understanding of money will be redefined to suit a digital context. To date, typical childhood experiences with money – like finding stray coins, collecting pennies, and receiving crisp notes in birthday cards – have shaped the relationships many adults have with money. However, children growing up today and in the future may have very different initial interactions and associations, and subsequently, a different understanding of money altogether.

Motivated by something larger than just payments and transactions, Clint sees nimbl as a way to make young people “financially confident, not just component” by providing a safe space to learn about money, using real money. Having already achieved media buzz, aggressive adoption, and award recognition, nimbl has three significant elements that make it unique: its focus on appropriate brand experience, holistic approach to financial learning, and built-in mechanisms to facilitate conversation between children and parents.

Young People Don’t Want a “Kid” Version

With a slick prepaid debit MasterCard and smartphone app, nimbl doesn’t shout “made for kids,” unlike the many other products and services aimed at children. This is intentional. As Clint describes, when developing nimbl, his team did extensive design research to define “a brand that would be cool to an eight-year-old boy and a teenage girl. It couldn’t be a bright orange card,” Clint elaborates, because “young people really want something that looks like what Mom and Dad carry.” Even though users may be juvenile in many aspects, the brand needed to echo a tone aligned with their aspirations for maturity. This is reflected in the electric blue card and app experience, where features like statements, spending controls, and alerts are presented in a grown-up yet digestible way. Though the user’s main purchases may still be corner-shop sweets or games (or, increasingly, online purchases), the entire experience has been designed to facilitate awareness and foster greater independence. “Ultimately, however,” Clint explains, “it’s the parents we had to convince that it’s safe, responsible, and secure.”

Spending and Saving Are Intertwined

While nimbl was borne from a desire to enable parents with a digital way to give “pocket money” to their children, Clint “always wanted nimbl to be about saving as well as spending.”

“In a digital, cashless ecosystem,” Clint states, “the idea of saving regular pocket change is gone. There’s a strong connection [when learning about money] to cash in hand; for me, counting pennies created an understanding of saving. In digital, it’s harder to replicate these experiences.” While many parents have savings accounts for their kids, this doesn’t contribute to the child’s understanding of saving money. Within nimbl, there is a built-in microsaving account for small saving targets, which Clint acknowledges “won’t be enough money to make them rich, but it will teach them that regular saving of small amounts is meaningful.” The user interface has been designed to encourage children to engage with their savings, while the microsavings accounts are intended to help them reach shorter-term (3-6 months) savings targets. There are also elements of gamification (e.g. savings certificates) to nudge users to achieve their savings goals.

Data Creates Dialogue

The cardholders may be the children, but nimbl is really a platform to facilitate exchange between children and their parents. Parents “hold the reigns” when it comes to overall governance of the account, including providing transfers and setting restrictions (e.g. ATM or online purchase limits). However, what’s more valuable is the dialogue that the shared interactions can stimulate. Beyond the financial, this can start a broader dialogue around lifestyle – from fostering healthy eating choices to discussing socializing habits.

With digital alerts and statements available to both parents and children, nimbl makes data available to facilitate open conversations around behavior, value, and even financial planning. In an increasingly intangible world, this information can play a significant role in helping children make sense of money and the ways in which they can manage it.

Defining Relationships With Money

In The Philosophy of Money, sociologist and philosopher Georg Simmel presents an argument that money is a structuring agent that helps us understand the world around us, including how we define value, how we compare things, how we decide which things are important, and even how we understand life.

Now, as the physical gives way to digital, we have more opportunity than ever to design meaningful experiences that help us understand how money “structures” the world around us. How will we pass along values and teach the new generations to understand their world? How will we substitute natural learning practices with designed experiences? What purpose will these experiences have? What meaning and relationships will we cultivate with the young people of tomorrow? With any luck, the future will look to correct the past, as Clint describes: “We don’t want another generation walking in blindly. It’s our responsibility to empower young people.”

the author

David Braid

David is head of strategy, Europe at Idea Couture Inc. He is based in London, UK.