Today’s guest on the Consumerism Commentary Podcast is Aaron Patzer, Vice President and General Manager of the Personal Finance Group at Intuit, and founder of Mint.com. Aaron and Flexo discuss financial literacy and Intuit’s partnership with educational publisher Scholastic, bringing lesson plans and resources to middle school students, their teachers, and their parents.
Mint and Scholastic: S04E13 / 114
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Table of contents
[00:00] Introduction from Flexo
[00:38] Interview with Aaron Patzer
— [01:05] Transition of Mint.com to Intuit
— [02:29] Mint.com Goals feature
— [03:38] Mint.com’s move towards financial literacy and curriculum
— [06:20] Lesson plan examples
— [08:09] Distribution of the lesson plans and educational games
— [10:10] Scholastic and Mint’s curriculum vs. other available resources
— [11:54] Responsibility for teaching financial literacy: teachers vs. parents
— [13:46] The right age to start teaching children about money
— [15:35] How high school students and their parents can reinforce the lessons
— [16:50] The ultimate goal of 100% financial literacy
— [17:39] Upcoming features for Mint.com
We always welcome feedback from listeners. If you have any comments for this episode or for any other, or if you have suggestions for future episodes, please leave us comments here or email us at podcast at this domain name.
Theme music by Mindcube.
Flexo: Welcome to the Consumerism Commentary Podcast for Sunday, January 16th. I’m Flexo. Today our guest is Aaron Patzer, Vice President and General Manager at Intuit.
Flexo: Welcome to the Consumerism Commentary Podcast, I’m Flexo.
Recently, Intuit, the makers of the Quicken software, announced a partnership with Scholastic to help parents and teachers develop financial literacy among their children and students. Today we have Aaron Patzer, General Manager and Vice President of Intuit Personal Finance, and founder of Mint.com, to discuss this new effort.
Aaron, welcome back to the Consumerism Commentary Podcast.
Aaron Patzer: Thanks for having me.
Flexo: Before we get to financial literacy, it’s been over a year since Mint announced that it would become a part of Intuit. How has this transition been so far?
Aaron: So far, it’s been pretty good. Mint continues to grow at a very rapid pace. I think we had 1.7 million registered users in November 2009 when we were sold to Intuit, and now we have about 4.5 million. Usage on our mobile applications has been surging. Our iPhone app has been downloaded over a million times. Android’s been downloaded about half a million times. And we just hit a milestone, which is mobile usage last month surpassed in terms of number of page views, I suppose, web usage, and mobile users are very active.
This past year we also put out a major new feature on financial goals. We’ve had about 600,000 goals set, just in the past few months, excluding the retirement goals, because each of those is for a few million dollars, something like 10 to 12 billion dollars worth of goals set.
And then, with retirement, it’s like 100 billion dollars worth of goals. it’s pretty remarkable. The “buy a car” goal actually integrates with Kelley Blue Book. So it’ll pull in the value of a Prius, a BMW, any model, new or used.
Flexo: It sounds like a great integration feature, there. Would you say that the Mint goals is one of your favorite accomplishments over the past year, or is there something else?
Aaron: Goals is absolutely my favorite accomplishment. I think that it moved Mint from the realm of… Look, most personal finance tools, including Mint until this past year, have been great ways to track your money and your net worth and see where you’re spending’s going and set a budget, maybe track your investments and your performance there. But, great, you’ve tracked it, you’ve got a good record of it. What do you do with that? I mean, fundamentally, like I said, money is a tool for living, so it’s not just the goals that Mint provides, one of the step by step things that you need to do. OK? Make sure your credit score’s in order. Is now a good time to buy? Should you rent versus buy? That’s a pretty fundamental question. And in certain areas, it actually makes more sense to rent if you plan on moving sometime in the next seven years, if you live in an expensive area like the Northeast or California. And Mint walks you through all of those things to provide a more personalized, do it for me, tell me how to do it, type of advice.
Flexo: OK, and now you see Mint moving on towards, more specifically, financial literacy. And that’s what we’re seeing with Scholastic. I’ve been familiar with Scholastic’s books since I was in grade school. So how did your relationship with Scholastic come about?
Aaron: Mint is about making personal finance accessible to everyone, not just personal finance enthusiasts who like math. The whole idea behind Mint was, nobody likes doing their finances. You should be able to get set up in five or 10 minutes and spend less than five minutes a week managing your finances, because it does everything for you, it alerts you to all the things that you need to know.
And so, the next step that we did, we started the Mint life blog, and we now have, I think, 1.2 million visits a month to our personal finance blog. Tons of great content, info-graphics that show personal finance concepts, not in boring words, but with pretty pictures and charts and graphs — much more engaging.
And the next step after that was, we produced a 12 minute cartoon called “The Quest for Credit” on personal finance, about saving, budgeting, getting yourself into too much debt, and then rebuilding your credit. It’s sort of got these “Lord of the Rings” type characters, there’s some trolls, and there’s a wizard. It’s pretty cool, I think it’s pretty much the only cartoon anyone’s ever made on personal finance. I swear, it’s better than I’m selling it today.
So we actually took most of those characters from “The Quest for Credit” and created… We decided that they were… That actually made it accessible to teens, we should take that and put it into a school curriculum.
I’d also gotten a lot of speaking requests from high school and middle school teachers. I spoke to, maybe, two or three hundred high school teachers in Ohio when they passed a law that said high school students should learn basic personal finance curriculum.
We discovered there wasn’t much out there that was engaging and practical. And so, Scholastic, like you, is somebody I remember from being a kid, they produce all the books and a lot of other material. We went out and sought them out, and they said, “This is a fantastic idea, we like Mint/Intuit as a brand name.” Intuit has a philanthropic arm that supplies some of the funding and we’re producing these materials for 30,000 classrooms. It should reach 300,000 eighth grade students.
And it’s got two lesson plans, so it’s part of a math or even a social studies curriculum. And the first one is: “You can pick from three jobs, you can be a babysitter, who makes $10 an hour and works four hours a day. You can be a house painter who makes $8 an hour, but can work eight hours a day, but requires $20 in painting supplies and ladders and brushes each day, or a camp counselor. Which of these jobs will save up for a $500 bicycle fastest?”
And that introduces the concept of saving, of different jobs; make a different amount of money. Different jobs require different amount of effort or a different number of hours, some jobs require supplies, you have to spend money to make it, you know, the basic concepts of business and value creation in that lesson plan.
And then, the next one is on compound interest. You deposit $1,000 into a bank and is making 10 percent interest. You have $1,100 the next year.
Most eighth grade students think that the year after that you’d have $1,200 but that’s not actually true because the $100 interest from the first year earned $10 interest the next year, you get that nice exponential curve, the thing that I am excited to call the eighth wonder of the world.
And then, that is the exact opposite. If you incur finance charges it just gets building and building and so it’s compound interest working against you. And so those concepts, introducing them basically two or three years before either your first job, before I think 25 percent of teenagers now have credit cards.
Before you get a credit card we thought it was just a good idea for the national savings rate. And the kind of thing that I learned fortunately from my parents, almost these exact same lessons, and they were what let me have the ability and the passion for this phase to start Mint.
Flexo: Now you gave us an example of a couple of lessons plans that are offered. You also mentioned that they were offered to a certain number of schools. Are the plans also available online?
Aaron: The plans are available online for those of you who are not eighth grade students. We did a survey and most of America has about a fifth grade level of personal finance expertise. So I’m pretty sure these are applicable to many adults out there as well.
Flexo: But even teachers and parents could get the information for themselves without being in a specific school targeted by the program?
Aaron: Exactly. The program should reach pretty much all fifty states. But in case it’s not at your school or you want to pick this up and share it with your kids go to mint.com/blog/education. And you’ll see, not only the lesson plans, but a bunch of other personal finance education articles that we’ve written. We will have some Flash-based personal finance games. There’s one of them that is sort of like a board game. And from the outset, you have the option of choosing to buy six different things, and they’re sort of kid-friendly. It’s an mp3 player, or it’s a ticket to a concert, or it’s redoing your wardrobe, or redoing your bedroom, or it’s a bicycle.
And during the game, you have the option to buy these, certainly it costs a certain amount of money. You’re earning money, you’re paying money. Let’s say you’re the house painter, you have to buy supplies for your job.
The key is, you can’t buy everything even though you’d love to. And if you run out of money, because some supplies cost you more than you think, or you can’t buy the thing that you wanted… If you go bankrupt, you sort of start over from zero.
It’s kind of fun, and it’s a fairly realistic portrayal of what will happen in your adult life if you try to buy everything under the sun.
Flexo: Do you have plans to expand what’s being offered now there?
Aaron: That’s right. Those games will be available to all the classrooms through Scholastic but will also be available online.
Flexo: So how are these lesson plans and other resources that you’re making available with Scholastic different than some of the other lesson plans that you might be able to find online now from financial literacy websites?
Aaron: They were crafted by Scholastic who’s a leader in the space. So they have actually done testing with real teachers and students to ensure that there’s something that people like and that is age-appropriate. So that’s number one. And then we’re using the fun characters that we’ve developed for “The Quest for Credit” to make it engaging, the Financial Wizard character among others. So I think they’re well designed, and they’re not as boring and bland as most of the stuff that you find out there. But even if you can’t get or don’t find the Mint personal finance curriculum, I always highly encourage to teach your kids about money.
One suggestion that I would have for any parents out there is don’t just give your kids an allowance, make sure that they earn it, make a sure that there’s a tie between effort and the amount that they earn. Whether it’s mowing the land, or vacuuming, or cleaning, or whatever happens to be age appropriate tie it to work.
And then, if you want to teach them about compound interest or about saving give them a $10 bonus if they save up $100. Those are some of the things that my parents did with me that I thought were very effective when I was a kid.
Flexo: Well, that brings up a good question here, and it’s something that we’ve debated on Consumerism Commentary quite a bit. And that is when it comes to parents and teachers who really has the burden of the bulk of the responsibility for instilling good financial habits in the next generation?
Aaron: Very interesting question. We surveyed parents and 46 percent of them, so just about half, said that they thought the burden should go to the school, schools should be teaching personal finance literacy and education. And of course schools think that parents should be teaching it, and the end result is that no one is.
I think that on both sides teachers think, “Well, I can’t even manage my own finances.” Parents think, “Well, I’m not all that knowledgeable here either,” or it’s a subject that can be very intimidating. Everybody makes money mistakes. I’ve made them. And so they try to push it off onto someone else.
I think that what Mint is doing with Scholastic will help on the school side, but parents should not wait and should go to mint.com/blog/education, get the materials today, and start teaching with their kids.
Flexo: OK. And I guess we can hope that parents will then be involved, and remain involved as the teachers go ahead and use these materials and other materials and teach students. The biggest concern that I see is that any lesson taught in school will only go so far if they go home, if the students go home and their parents model poor financial behavior.
Aaron: Yeah. For the students who get these Mint and Scholastic lesson plans at school, there’s not only the lesson plan that the teachers have, but there’s a take-away for the parents as well.
Flexo: Is eighth grade the right age for students to start learning about having a positive approach to money? From what I understand, attitudes towards money will come out of a kid’s personality, and personality is usually set in at a much younger age. Is there anything that can be done at younger ages to help children start having the right attitude towards money and know how to handle themselves?
Aaron: Yeah. So there are two questions in there. Is eighth grade the right age for us to be tackling, and that’s a good question. Like I said, it’s a couple years before you probably get your first job, so I think it’s important to get it in before you get your first job, before you get a credit card, before you get a mobile phone and expenses that you should be handling.
And then, the other question is, is it too late? What can you do for your younger children? Because a lot of this, maybe, is affected by personality. And I think the best thing that you can do is, a kid can start earning an allowance for cleaning their room when they’re five or six years old, putting away their toys. Things like that instill good money habits. And giving them money that they can control, three dollars, five dollars, very small amounts, are thrilling to children. I remember they were when I was a kid.
Whether it’s buying candy or toys, something that they have to save up for, that they don’t just get, but they see accumulating over a month or two. To save up for something that they choose, makes it much more meaningful for them. They’re much more cautious with their own money. They’re much more selective. And I think those are good money lessons.
Flexo: Related to that, what can teachers and parents of high school students do to make what they’re learning in these lesson plans for eighth grade, concrete, as they do get their credit cards and get their bank accounts for the first time?
Aaron: Well, I think that one of the things we do well in the States is, teenagers often get jobs. And I think we start in the workforce fairly young, 15, 16 years old. And I think instilling the habit of tracking exactly how much money you get, showing with your child or your teenager, how much is taken out for taxes and what each of the items mean, federal, state, FICA, all of that… And then, using a tool like Mint.com to track your spending and set budgets, so you don’t go way over and you can set some goals for that concert or that vacation, or that one big item that you want. You don’t just fritter it away on small, less meaningful items, I think are the most important lessons.
Flexo: How would you describe the perfect world in which every eighth grader has had this knowledge and is getting to the point where they’re going to be financially responsible adults? How would you describe that world?
Aaron: Ah. It’s a world where, when those eighth graders become adults, we have a massively positive savings rate. Now it flips back and forth between negative, and it’s positive right now, but just by a couple percent. It was negative, meaning people were incurring more debt every year than they were saving just a few years ago. And so, if we could get back to where we were in about 1980, where the average savings was about 10 percent, it would do the whole country a lot of good.
Flexo: That sounds like a pretty nice future. Sort of on the same topic, looking at the future, what can users of Mint and Quicken look forward to in the coming year?
Aaron: Well, we will do a lot more when it comes to mobile and tablets. As I mentioned, we have one of the most popular iPhone and Android applications in the financial category. You can see the balances across 12,000 plus banks, see your budgets, your transactions, how your investments are performing, and get bill reminders, all on your mobile phone.
You’ll see things like an iPad application. You’ll see more functionality put into the iPhone and Android, the ability to add transactions, the ability to add new accounts on the iPhone. Right now you have to do that on the web. So there will be a big emphasis on mobile usability. And then Mint just expanded into Canada, and we’ll expand globally even more over the course of the next year.
Flexo: OK, great. Then on that note I’ll wrap it up here. Thanks for joining me, Aaron.
Aaron: Thanks for having me.
Flexo: That was Aaron Patzer, Vice President at Intuit and founder of Mint. For more information about the resources available to parents and teachers, visit scholastic.com/mint, or mint.com/blog/education. Thanks for listening to the Consumerism Commentary Podcast.
Transcription by CastingWords
Updated March 21, 2011 and originally published January 16, 2011.