We must engage in and promote ethical business practices. It starts with how we treat our partners, contractors, and customers. We have to be transparent with how we are going to use the data that our users trust us with. We are making strategic partnerships to that end to protect their data. I’ve been victim to identify theft and I’ve seen how some businesses have handled it well and others that have fallen short.
In recent years, Big Tech has gotten a bad rep. But of course many tech companies are doing important work making monumental positive changes to society, health, and the environment. To highlight these, we started a new interview series about “Technology Making An Important Positive Social Impact”. We are interviewing leaders of tech companies who are creating or have created a tech product that is helping to make a positive change in people’s lives or the environment. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing James Anderson.
James Anderson is the Founder and President of SmartMov, a saving platform fixated on helping people grow their wealth through users sharing their financial successes. He has over 15 years in finance with a focus on process improvement. By leveraging the philosophy of Kaizen which states that our way of life — be it working life, our social life, or home life — it deserves to be constantly improved. He is about achieving improvements by taking small steps instead of drastic, rigorous changes. SmartMov helps people make small savings ‘moves’ to make lasting financial wealth.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory and how you grew up?
I was born and raised in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, which is located at the foot of Lake Winnebago. (Fond du Lac translates to “foot of the lake” in French!) I grew up with my younger sister and single mother. My mom was the sole provider for most of my childhood — she took it upon herself to go back to school to become a Registered Nurse to improve our lives, but that meant long hours at daycare for me and my sister while she was studying and working. She was able to provide for us by being thrifty and buying second-hand clothes, utilizing food-stamps, and embracing free activities such as hiking and biking the many beautiful trails around the Kettle Marine area.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
There was an instance during routine maintenance the team found a piece was missing. We came together as a team to first identify the products directly impacted then found the items that may have indirectly been impacted. We reached out to our customers and then their customers’ customers. Our customers never did have an issue because of how well the team stepped up and came together. I won’t forget how well we functioned as a team, nor the importance of good data. We were able to find the products manufactured during the time period between the maintenance checks, then identify where those products had been shipped for a quick resolution that could have turned into much larger crisis.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
There have been numerous people in my life that have impacted me by the way they lived their lives. I have learned a ton just by watching how these key people have treated others and went about doing their work. If I had to choose one person, I would choose my 5th grade teacher, Mr. Curcurio. He was an even-tempered figure in my life who took it upon himself to invest time in me when I was more or less a troubled youth: causing trouble & driving my mother crazy. He understood me and was able to get me to focus.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.” C.S. Lewis. I think this just summarizes life. We all have those moments where we wish we could change the past, but it’s important to remember that the choices we make now can change our future lives for the better. We can make that first step. I have numerous regrets in life, but I have gained a valuable take-away from all of them. This is really how SmartMov was created. I graduated college thinking my degree was going to earn me a higher salary to pay off my debt. However, I quickly learned that it took a combination of factors and lifestyle changes to make my life better. That meant living like no one else. Making small sacrifices such as turning down the heat in the winter, and using a sleeping bag on top of my bed to stay warm at night. I didn’t have cable and just watched broadcast tv and read free books. I took advantage of the library and borrowed not only books, but TV series and movies. I rode my bike, I kept a flip phone, I didn’t buy new furniture just to fill up my apartment. My girlfriend at the time may have thought I was crazy, but now she’s my wife and we are better-off financially than most of our peers for some of these very reasons. I made those small decisions to change the rest of my life and I took those early lessons and formed SmartMov to help others get motivated.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
- PERSISTANCE. It is one trait that some may relate to stubbornness. I am detail-oriented and persistent in working through things until I fully understand them. There was an instance where I was reviewing some products and looking at their various metrics. I was told by numerous people that we knew which products were profitable, and that I needed to focus my attention elsewhere instead of diving into a deep analysis that would “lead nowhere”. But, by understanding the process and then building a financial model based on those insights we were able to reverse a course that everyone assumed was just fine, even though it was not.
- SELF-STARTER. I can recall early in my career that I was trying to use a tool that been thrown together by another team. I ended up building a new tool. It was before I knew terms like “wire-frame” or “MVP” but essentially, I had built a working prototype that we were then able to hand off to the programmers. It was the blueprint to how SmartMov started. I built the early version with a no-code platform that we were able to then share with the programmers, who then went on to make it into a working prototype. They were able to do this by working through the feedback on the early version I had built. By taking it upon myself to understand the fundamentals of how everything worked, I could relate more to the various teams I have led throughout my career. For instance, I worked with our data-team and we worked very well together, mainly because I could relate to the problems they were running into.
- TEACHER-MENTALITY. You have to be willing to have the patience to sit down with people in your life and work through issues. There’s been numerous instances where I would take time, ask questions, and learn about a person to know where they were coming from. They may be dealing with issues or roadblocks that I don’t know about unless I asked, and may be unwilling to share them because they thought it was their burden to bare. It’s funny how we will just assume we have to keep doing the same thing and aren’t willing to just ask the question: “Is there a better way?”
Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about the tech tools that you are helping to create that can make a positive social impact on our society. To begin, what problems are you aiming to solve?
Most Americans spend the money they earn, without saving or investing it. 40% of people can’t cover a 400 dollars unexpected expense with savings. Numerous studies have shown that people feel powerless to save. We’re trying to help people discover we can save and invest for our future and change our circumstances. We hope that SmartMov makes doing so fun and rewarding by gamifying saving and making talking about money less taboo.
How do you think your technology can address this?
By starting conversations and making saving more rewarding, we feel that our users can create new habits of saving/investing. There’s quite a bit of tools out there that allow people to save towards certain goals. We hope that by making saving a social activity that people will embrace it. Similar to how fitness trackers, workout apps and smart watches helped people challenge each other to fulfill fitness goals, we hope that by adding a social aspect to saving, people can get motivated by what others are doing to meet their goals. We may not like to talk about our savings goals with those close to us, but keeping it more anonymous on a social network, we hope to see a community of people cheering each other on as they pay off debt and save for those big things in their lives. In the app, people can see how others are saving by just making small little changes that really add up. We hope that by allowing users to comment and give kudos to each other that we can organically build a community of support for those that are trying to build wealth.
Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?
I graduated from school with student loan debt, a lease on a vehicle I couldn’t afford. I was embarrassed by how much debt I had accumulated. I had just graduated with a degree in finance and a minor in economics. After graduation, I looked back at all the financial decisions I had made up to that point and realized that I had plenty of chances to have embraced saving and investing but I had not taken advantage of them. I started working and making money at 11 years old. I was a young entrepreneur. My sister and I went door-to-door selling a toy we made with nails and blocks of wood. Then I took on numerous paper-routes. It wasn’t that I didn’t have money from a young age, but I always spent it frivolously. If I had only known then what I had learned in college about compound interest, I could have paid for school outright. When I got serious about getting out of the fly wheel of debt, I realized how many people were also dealing with the same things. I found blogs and articles, and then the financial crisis happened and people were in terrible situations. I wanted to help, but at the time I just didn’t know how.
How do you think this might change the world?
SmartMov is very different than the other platforms out there. Our aim is to tap into our natural desire to talk about ourselves, share successes and be heard, while also tapping into a healthy competitiveness. If we can help users change their mindsets to “save first / spend later”, and disrupt the temptation to spend freely I think we’ll have made a real impact in people’s lives. This goes beyond than just building wealth. By reducing needless consumerism and wasteful spending, you can make a real impact on the environment and your health and create a happier healthier society.
I do worry about over sharing, spam and the potential for people being taken advantage of. Social media is a powerful tool, but can be used negatively. If our users unintentionally share too personal information and there is a someone with bad intentions, that could cause issues. However, with that in mind, we have made it a process to sign-up for the platform. We use our security teaming partner PLAID to validate everyone’s identification before they are allowed to see others posts and make posts themselves. Upfront this does add addition time to the onboarding process and as a result of the added security, it does add addition cost to us. In the end, for us and our users to be successful, our users must feel comfortable to share their personal finance story.
Here is the main question for our discussion. Based on your experience and success, can you please share “Five things you need to know to successfully create technology that can make a positive social impact”?
- Like any product or service, you need to find the right market for what you are selling. In our instance, we’re building a savings tool. On the surface, that isn’t revolutionary. There are banks that allow you to have multiple account names for your savings objectives (i.e. Holiday Savings Accounts). What sets us apart is that we’re creating a technology that we hope helps people change their habits. More importantly, we hope they start to believe that they are IN CONTROL of their finances instead of hanging their heads and giving up, thinking the deck is stacked against them. But the main answer to the question: even if your product will make a positive impact, it has to have someone that wants to use it or buy it or it will not achieve the goal for social change.
- We must engage in and promote ethical business practices. It starts with how we treat our partners, contractors, and customers. We have to be transparent with how we are going to use the data that our users trust us with. We are making strategic partnerships to that end to protect their data. I’ve been victim to identify theft and I’ve seen how some businesses have handled it well and others that have fallen short.
- We are taking on a big task in helping people begin to save. It’s a huge ask to literally ask people to share how they are saving and making ends meet, but people are remarkable. They want to help and I think if we can plug into that desire to help each other out, and learn from each other we can change the way people think of saving.
- There’s a lot more to be done. We built a fantastic tool that gives people the best APY by account. There are other services out there, but typically you won’t find the best rate unless you scroll to the bottom or worse, change some filters then jump to the 2nd or 3rd screen. We are bringing the best offers to the forefront. If you’re saving for a child’s education, we hope to educate you on CSAs (child saving’s accounts) that offer premium rates for those under 18. If you’re planning to start your own business or purchase a home and your income is at a particular level, we want to highlight possible Individual Development Accounts that will in some instances pay you 4x what you put into the account.
- Financial literacy is so important and sadly isn’t universally available for school age children. From our research, we found that most of us are getting our financial acumen from our parents. If we can be a part of making money topics less taboo and help people feel empowered to begin saving, we may be able to help generations not just our users.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
Earlier I talked about those people that were close to me that I strived to emulate. Remember that there are others who are trying to emulate you. Be the example, be authentic, and in the worst-case scenario, you did something great on your own. Even if you don’t always succeed, you will inspire others to put themselves out there and give it a shot.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them.
I would absolutely love to have breakfast or lunch with former President Obama. He’s lived a life that is now in the spotlight, but before he was president he worked hard in the background and he led by example. As an added bonus I wouldn’t mind sharing some of my thoughts on fiscal policy, and I’m pretty sure he has President Biden’s phone number.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Please visit our website at www.SmartMov.co and look for more content from us. Sign up for our platform to begin saving your future, one smart move at a time.
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success in your important work.