Wednesday, March 20

Alumni develop app for college students to manage their finances


(Courtesy of Tim Yu)

(Courtesy of Tim Yu)



Correction: The original version of this article incorrectly stated Tim Yu and Susie Kim were part of Delta Sigma Pi. In fact, they were in Sigma Eta Pi. It also incorrectly stated they founded the startup with a University of Seattle student. In fact, the student attended Seattle University.

Tim Yu and Susie Kim spent $70 to buy tickets to a nightclub party hosted by Kim Kardashian in Las Vegas.

They ended up arriving late and missing the party.

That experience made them realize they needed to make better financial decisions and led them to create Pluto Money, a mobile application that aims to help college students better manage their personal finances.

Yu and Kim, who graduated from UCLA in 2015, founded the startup with a Seattle University student. The app, which launched last week, has had a beta version since June, Kim said.

Yu said Pluto Money uses behavioral science to create personally tailored recommendations and challenges to help users save money and change their behavior in the long run.

“We think college is the … best time for someone to start making better money habits for when they enter the real world,” he said.

Yu added the app has a Peer Data Insight feature that allows students to compare their financial situations with other students on campus to help them understand how they measure up.

Yu said they were able to develop their startup by taking part in the Startup UCLA summer accelerator program the summer after graduating. The program helps UCLA affiliated startups by providing resources like office space on campus and mentors.

Kim said they reached out to a variety of students to develop the app by talking to more than 200 students on Bruin Walk and gathering additional feedback by making phone calls to students and reaching out to them on Facebook.

Kim said they also received feedback by attending the Los Angeles Hackathon at UCLA, and attending an entrepreneur accelerator program in Charlotte, South Carolina.

“What we learned is that a lot of people have financial goals but they don’t realize their goals,” she said. “When you dig a little deeper into it, everyone has goals – whether it is going to Coachella, buying a new laptop or paying off loans.”

Yu said he thinks existing financial management mobile apps do not help users plan short-term financial goals. He said he thinks apps like Mint, a money managing app that allows users to track their money and gives tips on how to save, are not designed for individuals who do not know how to start working toward their financial goals. For example, the app suggested he start a retirement fund when he was a second-year college student with no income, he said.

Kim said they also realized college students spend more on products that provide instant gratification, like coffee. She added she thinks credit cards and apps like Venmo, a mobile application that allows users to make purchases from their phone, make it easier for college students to overspend.

By combining behavioral science with technology, Yu said they hope Pluto Money can dissuade users from making unnecessary purchases.

“Money is more than just about numbers. It’s about the lifestyle you want, your unique circumstances,” he said. “We want to contextualize your recommendations as much as possible so we can get you to where you want to get to.”

While at UCLA, Kim said she and Yu were both members of the business fraternity Sigma Eta Pi, in which many students were starting technological companies of their own.

“It was really natural to think, ‘Hey, we should be the ones to solve this,’” Kim said.

Yu said he thinks his background in cognitive science helped him design the app to adapt to a user’s behavior and emotional response.

Corinne Bao, a second-year mathematics/economics student, and head of outreach for the UCLA Undergraduate Investment Society, which invited Yu and Kim to give a presentation on the app last quarter, said she thinks the app will help students manage their money in a creative way.

Yu and Kim said they partly made the app because of their own experiences with poor money management.

Yu made a significant income working as an intern in his third-year in college but after spending a lot on social outings he ended up with little savings.

Meanwhile, Kim said she was accepted into her dream arts and language program in England and Italy after college, but dropped out of the program because she did not have enough savings.

“Neither of us had any finance experience,” Kim said. “We set out to build (Pluto Money) to solve our own problems.”

Yu said he hopes students continue to depend on the app to manage their finances even after they graduate.

“We’re not just a saving app,” he said. “We’re a personal finance app. … it goes beyond just reaching your financial goal.”

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