Innovation is often thought of as technical, or scientific, but this week we invested a little extra time to find Katie Payer at the Young American's Bank in Denver, Colorado. Now, here is an ambitious group of innovative thinkers who are changing the future of banking and inspiring the bankers of tomorrow. Let's here what Katie had to say when we interviewed her:
Q: What is your full name, title and role in the bank?
Katie Payer, Vice President of Communications
I oversee the marketing and communication strategies and execution for Young Americans Center for Financial Education. I also work to plan events for the organization, which includes Young Americans Bank, Young AmeriTowne, International Towne and our entrepreneurship program, Get aHead for Business.
Q: Can you describe what makes the Young American's Bank a leader of innovation in the world today?
KP: Young Americans Bank is the only bank in the world just for young people ages 22 and under. We are a real, FDIC-insured bank that offers real banking products for youth. Our focus is education, however, so every transaction is an educational opportunity.
With so much of the world learning and accessing information digitally, it’s important to remember that not everyone learns best that way. Young Americans is innovative in the way we teach: hands-on with real-life experiences and consequences. We don’t offer simulations: if you take out a loan for a car and don’t pay it back, that car will be repossessed. It could be a hard lesson to learn, but it’s one that’s bound to stick because it’s real.
Q: What are the newest educational techniques that the bank is pioneering?
KP: We are expanding our library of “Concepts of the Month”. Each month we take a financial concept and offer worksheets, quizzes and info sheets for families to take home. We recognized that while many of our customers learn some great vocabulary and concepts while in the bank, those lessons need to continue at home. We’re letting parents use these take-aways to continue the financial conversation in the car or around the dinner table.
Q: How did you originally get involved with the bank?
KP: I was a customer starting in 1990 and attending Young AmeriTowne summer camp twice. I was on the Youth Advisory Board, a group of teens representing the organization, twice in high school. Additionally, I interned for the former Vice President of Communications. When I stepped into this role in 2011, the learning curve was shallower that it could have been, thanks to my extensive experience with the programs.
Q: How are you funding this adventure?
KP: Within Young Americans, we have two fiscal entities.
Young Americans Bank is a real, FDIC-insured bank that happens to not make a profit every year. We have one stakeholder that collects money from the Daniels Fund to cover all the losses each year. Bill Daniels originally covered the losses himself. Upon his death, his foundation, the Daniels Fund, took on that obligation.
The other programs under Young Americans Center, such as Young AmeriTowne and our entrepreneurship programs, are all supported by the community. That entity is a 501(c)(3) non-profit and we have many fantastic supporters who donate to make those programs possible.
Q: Are you profitable now? What's the financial forecast for your bank?
KP: See above. Young Americans Bank will never make a profit, though that was never one of the goals. Instead, we strive to bring personal financial education to as many young people as we can.
Q: Is there anyone or any group in particular that you wish you could partner with?
KP: Our non-profit programs partner with a vast number of organizations that support us. Some of these include Comcast, KeyBank, Xcel Energy, Cambiar, Allstate, Anschutz Foundation, FirstBank, State Farm and the Denver Post. A full list can be found on our website.
Q: How does the bank utilize Mobile, Social and Local technologies?
KP: We have a challenge because a huge percentage of our customer base is too young to legally use things like Facebook. Additionally, another whole swath don’t yet have cell phones. We try to talk directly to those customers whenever they come into the Bank or through our programs.
We do direct a lot of our marketing towards parents – the “taxi drivers” for our customers. J We recognize that many parents don’t feel 100% comfortable teaching some of these financial concepts to their kids, especially if they themselves don’t have a strong grasp on the concepts. That’s really where we want to step in. Through things like our “Concepts of the Month” and our parent-student classes, we aim to encourage the entire family’s learning.
Q: What's your take on digital wallet technology?
KP: We recognize that many banking transactions are moving to digital. However, we still believe that a hands-on experience is the most valuable aspect of Young Americans Bank. Additionally, many of our customers are too young to have cell phones, so the physical location and personal experience is still crucial for them.
Q: How much of your operation is in the cloud?
KP: Young Americans Bank offers online accounts, though we do not have a mobile app at this time. Customers can access their account and track their spending in such a way as to see which buckets their money goes towards.
Q: What experience would you recommend to families curious about getting started with the bank?
KP: Anyone with a social security number can open an account, so we often have grandparents come in to make a deposit for their new grandbabies. However, after about age 3 is when young customers really begin to grasp the concepts of keeping money in a bank, earning interest, and making deposits and withdrawals.
Q: What have been your bank management lessons so far?
KP: Every transaction is an educational opportunity, so our staff members are hired to create great connections with our customers. We recognize that even though an account is small, that customer, and her understanding of the bank, is invaluable.
Q: Can you name two of your contemporary inspirations who are role models for you?
KP: One of our program areas due to rapidly expand in the next few years is youth entrepreneurship. I’m particularly excited about this because of my passion for startups and the entrepreneur attitude. I lived in Silicon Valley for ten years and came to admire the many entrepreneurs who worked outrageous hours with tireless passion to bring their product or service to market. Although there aren’t one or two specific entrepreneurs I can call out, anyone with that spirit motivates and inspires me. It’s especially excited to see it in young people. It makes me thrilled for our future economy if these 10, 16 and 18 year-olds are driven to start their own businesses.
Q: Can you name someone along the way you wish you could thank and haven't yet? What would you say to them?
KP: I wish that I could have thanked Bill Daniels in person for this remarkable organization and the opportunities it has afforded me. Not only was I taught important monetary lessons from the beginning of my life, but I was also taught about business etiquette, ethics, civics, entrepreneurship and respect. Much of those lessons came through my time on the Youth Advisory Board, but they were nonetheless all wrapped up in my “Young Americans encounters”. His vision for Young Americans was profound and well-rounded and I would thank him for his influence in my life.
Q: What's the next big thing for the Digital Economy in 2012-2013?
KP: I think the growth of mobile payments will continue, and Young Americans will continue to assess the best technologies to adapt. However, we believe it’s crucial to teach the fundamentals of the financial system before handing kids a phone to swipe to pay.
We are often asked why kids use checks in our Young AmeriTowne program, as check books are rapidly becoming obsolete. Our response is that the concept of “money in and money out” will always remain current. Without that basic understanding of what writing a check does to a checking account, a young person can’t grasp what a debit card swipe does to that same checking account. No matter where the digital economy heads, the fundamentals will always remain the same.
Q: Is there an special link, offer, or engagement you'd like to share with anyone reading this article? What is it?
KP: So many people know only one aspect of who we are at Young Americans: maybe they’re had a bank account for years but have no idea about the programs that go on elsewhere; conversely, we serve 30,000 kids per year in our programs, but many don’t overlap as Young Americans Bank customers. Head to www.yacenter.org or get more information about whichever aspects you don’t know about!