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Saving for What Matters: A Q&A with INSPIRAVE Founder and CEO Om Kundu

From a renewed focus on holistic financial wellness to the way technologies like predictive analytics can improve financial decision-making, the personal finance management (PFM) space has enjoyed a renaissance in recent years.

We caught up with Om Kundu, founder and CEO of social savings network INSPIRAVE, to find out what his company has been doing to help the average person leverage relationships with friends and family to save smarter. Headquartered in New York City, INSPIRAVE demonstrated its platform at FinovateFall 2016.

Finovate: Among the big news from INSPIRAVE this fall was the fact that you were recently issued a patent. What was the patent for and what does it mean for the company going forward?

Kundu: By combining intelligently planned direct deposits with social gifting and the best savings offers, we have combined the power of three separate solutions of social discovery, savings, and fulfillment into one. This enables INSPIRAVE to be a relentless advocate, and maintain our users’ best interest in mind at every step. INSPIRAVE empowers users to travel from Point-A to Point-B not only by increasing the value of their existing principal, but also by reducing the price-point of their chosen goal whenever possible as part of a thoughtfully orchestrated plan that does not stop until the goal is fulfilled without the risk of credit turning into debt.

Our most recently issued patent is part of a series of filed patents that we expect to be issued internationally. What you see today is V 1.0 of the roadmap (image below) we are furthering for an end-to-end, iTunes-like ecosystem to fundamentally realign retail financial services, commerce and goal-fulfillment. In its simplest form, the systems and methods of the inventions are inspiring users on a journey to fulfill the goals that matter the most to them by setting funds aside over time to make a purchase you may not have afforded otherwise.

The fact that our INSPIRAVE patent has been cited by some of the world’s leading institutions spanning across the Americas (Bank of America) and China (FUZAMEI Tech) should speak for itself on our proprietary technology’s far-reaching scope and scale. The issuance of the patent is a testament to INSPIRAVE having pioneered social savings as much as social commerce.

Looking ahead as part of our roadmap, INSPIRAVE users and partners will benefit from technologies enabling smart contracts for co-ownership/co-access of the merchandise being saved up for. They will also power our SaveAway Pay-It-Forward Scores™, through which we have further aligned incentives for people saving towards their goals and their friends-and-family who have the option — but not the obligation — to contribute. 

Finovate: A lot of fintech companies are getting involved in financial wellness, moving beyond PFM. For those who are new to INSPIRAVE, how does your solution differ from other savings-oriented platforms on the market?

Kundu: Far too many solutions in the market today induce more (impulse) spending to qualify for what is often the mirage of saving (i.e., credit card cash-back rewards, or rounding-up a fraction of what you spend into saving). Instead of resuscitating the dying saving muscle, they end up putting the spending muscle on further steroids. Included in these is seemingly “convenient” point-of-sale financing, including those you pay in installments festered with egregious interest rates with credit, that far too often translates into debt.

Yet other card-linked solutions throw advertised offers at you based on your past transactions, which often end up encouraging frivolous purchases and overspending. At a time when the debt crisis is upon us (over $1 trillion in credit card debt alone), we absolutely can and must do better than what retail financial services and commerce often is today: impulsive, punitive, and asocial.

INSPIRAVE stands for that more perfect union – one that aligns fulfillment of goals by users to that of our retail partners who equally benefit from customers, sales, and positive impact they would not have had otherwise. Our singular focus is on helping you “save more, faster,” to fulfill the purchase-goals that matter most, and help you avoid the distractions of the frivolous purchases that don’t.

The result? Even while INSPIRAVE is devoid of advertising, our powerful model is free for end-users (unlike many existing solutions which charge fees for their savings service.)!

Our INSPIRAVE user research indicates in no uncertain terms that “saving for saving’s sake” or saving limited to monetary goals — which is what many solutions today in the market provide — is not intrinsically fulfilling for people. Beyond numerical goals, our goal should be to fulfill experiential goals — i.e., having the purchase-goals that matter the most to us and the people around us delivered at your door.

Finovate: As a social savings network, users of the platform are also critical to the network effect of community-building. Are you seeing these effects in the beta testing of the platform that you are currently doing?

Kundu: INSPIRAVE’s social foundation is borne out in no uncertain terms with over 90% of our users referring other users to the platform. The INSPIRAVE platform’s latest release adds social and direct messaging capabilities making it extraordinarily easy for users to selectively engage their “friends that count” (in contrast to the more public “friend count” or crowd) on purchase decisions.

By cultivating a community of “friends that count,” users not only benefit from social nudges that help them make better purchase-decisions, but also equally increase the likelihood of benefiting from social gifting in the form of monetary contributions from those very same friends. Beyond taking advantage of access to our private beta, our SaveAway program empowers users to recommend their own favorite brands and retailers to join our network. This is making SaveAway a truly democratized marketplace that is equally accessible by well-regarded brands big and small.

Rather than the zero-sum game of getting consumers to “buy more stuff,” INSPIRAVE empowers users to “save more, faster” in ways that enable them to focus on the big purchases that matter most which they wouldn’t have afforded otherwise. In so doing, our SaveAway platform equally unlocks a wholly new channel of underserved customers and sales that expands the total addressable market for retail and financial institutions.

Finovate: How important are partnerships to building the INSPIRAVE community and brand? Who are the other players in fintech that you have synergies with or with whom you might collaborate?

Kundu: Our noteworthy partners run the gamut from Microsoft — which has inducted us into their “Microsoft for Startups” program for The Top Startups in the World — to Stripe, as well as leading e-commerce destinations and retailers including eBay and Best Buy. Given the volume of recent partner inquiries, we are focused on the ones most aligned with our progressive vision. Looking ahead, you can expect to see more of INSPIRAVE’s solutions directly embedded in the retail and e-commerce platforms of our partners.

Finovate: Can you tell us a little about the team you’ve put together and who’ve helped the company get to where it is today?

Kundu: From interns and hires straight out of universities such as Cornell, RIT, Carnegie Mellon, et.al. to senior executives in our board, the common attribute that stands out among them all is this: the courage and the tenacity to solve for tough — and hitherto unsolved — problems. Each one is resolutely focused on alleviating the pain that hundreds of millions are living with, manifest in the staggering amount of consumer debt and gaping holes in financial wellness that get in the way of fulfilling the big goals that truly matter.