Can flexible savings help more American’s survive income volatility? EARN’s Savings by Design Lab plans to find out.
Since I became CEO of EARN, people often ask me what keeps me up at night. Like most of us brave enough to do this job, the short and immediate answer is cash flow. If you have ever stared down a nonprofit balance sheet you are all too familiar with the constant mental accounting that goes into calculating how many months of payroll are in the bank and whether your next grant will be approved in time. My colleagues who have been doing this job for longer than my 18 months assure me you get used to it, kind of.
In this way, nonprofits are not unlike the clients we serve. The desire for greater stability was heard repeatedly by our research team as they talked to EARN Savers across the United States. This should come as no surprise to those of you keeping up with the literature – an oft cited Pew report found that 90% of survey respondents would prefer more stability over more income.
Helping the 50% of Americans with almost no savings to build an emergency cushion is a logical solution to improve household financial stability, but as volatility worsens, is it a reasonable one? EARN plans to find out.
The W.K. Kellogg Foundation recently awarded a grant to EARN to support our first Savings by Design Lab project – Surviving Income Volatility. Over the next two years, we will engage directly with our Savers and members to design, test, launch and evaluate a savings solution for low-income consumers experiencing income volatility. We will explore what kind of savings tools are best suited to serve consumers with inconsistent cash flow and evaluate the impact of flexible savings on financial resilience.
With around 1,000 new members joining EARN’s platform every week we have created a direct connection to a growing community of 30,000 low-income consumers across the United States – many (if not most) of whom are experiencing the destabilizing volatility EARN aims to combat.
We are grateful to have found a partner in the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, who recognizes the importance of allowing those we serve to play a role in the co-creation of our products and services and understood that this meant we couldn’t necessarily predict our programmatic outcomes ahead of time.
I know that the cash reserve EARN set aside for emergencies helps me sleep at night. We must work hard to bring that same sense of stability to people across this country. I believe we can do that by listening, learning and delivering solutions designed for and with the consumers who need them.
The evidence is now clear that financial volatility is a major problem. It’s time to get to work on the solutions.
As always, I hope you will join us.
P.S. Despite what these posts suggest, I usually sleep well, so don’t worry!
Leigh is the president and CEO of EARN.