It’s said that to understand what someone experiences in life, you need to walk a mile in their shoes. You need to experience what they are experiencing, the emotions they are feeling, and the resources available. It’s one of the reasons I can talk about getting out of debt. I know what it is like to have a huge number staring right back at you and feeling like conquering it is insurmountable. I know how hard it is to stay on course, sacrificing your wants to achieve something greater. And I know what it feels like to pay off that last debt payment and be able to feel the weight and chains of debt taken away.
But I don’t know what it is like to live my life day-to-day without traditional banking services. I have had a bank account since I was a child. I wouldn’t know how to go about cashing a check, transferring funds or getting a money order without a bank. So when the opportunity arose to be part of a real world workshop to understand what it means to be part of the unbanked or underbanked, I jumped at the chance. The FinX workshop experience allowed me to see what the financial world looks and feels like through the eyes of an unbanked or underbanked person – part of the population that is not served by banks or similar institutions.
Our large workshop group was broken up into smaller teams and within those smaller teams, a variety of financial tasks were to be completed – cash a payroll check, cash a personal check, perform a money transfer, pay a bill. The teams were directed to a particular location hub via an Uber where these tasks were to be completed. All teams had an hour and forty-five minutes for travel time and to complete the tasks. Upon our return we would report our findings from the field and talk about our experience. The places of business that we were interacting with had no idea this was a workshop exercise as to keep the real-world aspect of the experience.
While I fully understood the mechanics of what we needed to accomplish, I was not prepared for the range of emotions I would feel during the time our group was trying to complete the tasks. The frustration. The amount of time it took to get one task completed. Hitting road blocks or refusals to accept our checks. Being asked to remove eyewear before we were allowed to enter one check cashing place. Finding out that one of the team member’s wedding rings would only bring $150 at the pawn shop even though it had been originally purchased for a few thousand dollars. Trying and failing to cash a personal check at four different places. The session left me exhausted – both physically from walking to all of these places and mentally from dealing with rejection and scrutiny at every stop.
This experience opened my eyes to the challenges the unbanked population faces. But what would I do with this new found information? I am not skilled or equipped to make a new financial product or app to solve an unbanked issue (several apps have been or are currently being designed in response to the FinX experience). But I can be more compassionate and empathetic when communicating with my audience or working with a coaching client. I can be more mindful of what kind of content needs to be produced and how it needs to be delivered to an audience that I had once ignored. And I can work with those people who are creating new financial products to help bring lower cost solutions to the unbanked population via my platform.
I am grateful to have had the opportunity to be a part of this experience and I encourage my fellow personal finance bloggers to take advantage of a future FinX event. Walking in someone else’s shoes provides the perspective needed to better understand our audiences so we can provide the most useful and effective personal finance content.
For more information about the FinX experience or to learn more about financial health, go to http://www.cfsinnovation.com/finhealthmatters.