EARN's Firefly - Can It Live up to the Hype and Help Americans Become Savers?
NEW YORK ( MainStreet) EARN's new Firefly Account is designed to reach the 44% of Americans who lack the savings to withstand small economic shocks. It is part of EARN's objective to empower 1 million Americans to save $1 billion by 2022.
But will a tool that does little more than provide expert advice and incentives for savers' contributions, realistically empower one million Americans to save?
In December 2013 EARN, a national nonprofit and one of the two largest providers of matched savings, launched the Firefly Account. The project marked the first time technology is being used to bring nonprofit, goal-based saving to scale. The Firefly Account is designed to support families on low incomes by helping them establish long-term saving habits. Through its online portal, the account offers the delivery of financial rewards and incentives. What's more, the Firefly Account is free to use and is offered without a profit motive.
"EARN's Firefly Account emulates the best of Silicon Valley start-ups by strategically using technology to solve seemingly intractable problems," said Ben Mangan, EARN's CEO. "In this case, EARN has learned from our first decade how to take our proven approach to build savings, and to do it for millions instead of thousands."
Is EARN working?
According to EARN, since 2002, its saving initiatives have helped 5,200 people save $6.2 million dollars. EARN savers make on average $18,000 a year. EARN's own statistics show that 83% of people continue to save after their programs end. EARN's saving schemes are therefore teaching lower-earning Americans how to save.
So what exactly are the Firefly Account's saving incentives?
Firefly offers eligible savers a $5 to $10 bonus when they save $20 or more for six consecutive months. Unlike EARN's other saving initiatives, Firefly transfers the money into online saving accounts, thus offering fluidity for emergency spending.
America's paltry saving habits
When the economy collapsed in 2008, the national U.S. savings rate rose sharply from near zero to almost 7%. Even at 7%, the figure is paltry compared to the likes of China, where 25% of disposable income is saved. By 2011, this figure had dropped to around 5%, when according to polls, 27% of Americans had no personal savings whatsoever.
The New York Times recently asked six financial experts their thoughts on why America can't seem to save money. Does it boil down to personal discipline and responsibility? Or do larger forces make it nigh impossible?
Tyler Cowen, an economics professor at George Mason and author of The Great Stagnation , says it's a combination of stagnant household income and the cost of new expenses, such as rising health care and new technology that is preventing people from saving in the U.S. On top of this, the U.S. has a higher culture of borrowing compared to other parts of the world.