Mike Massie

Lead Enterprise Architect

DigiPig: A modern piggy bank to promote financial literacy

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I'm excited to share Northwestern Mutual was recently awarded a design patent – the company's first ever – for a side project I’d been working on for more than two years: A digital piggy bank to help promote financial literacy with kids.

This concept grew out of research we'd been conducting about how chatbots could help guide a client with their financial goals. For example, how could we use bots to raise awareness about the impact of splurging for a latte or two every day (what we’ve called 'death by 1000 cups')? The cost of these small, everyday indulgences can add up fast, and they often go unnoticed – especially when they're paid for with something other than cash, like credit cards, debit cards and the ever-more frictionless options like digital wallets and mobile payment systems. Therein lies the problem.

Cashless transactions are obviously convenient, but they also eliminate a crucial pain we feel when we must hand over actual paper money during a transaction, a pain that gives balance to the exchange. Now? No pain, just gain. Not only is that a slippery slope for some adults, it also paints an unrealistic picture for the next generation of consumers. Without the ceremonious (and sometimes painful) handing over of cash, will kids ever learn the value of money? How will they come to appreciate the concept of saving?

All of this led me to the idea of DigiPig: A redesign of the iconic piggy bank for an age where currency is becoming less and less tangible. The modern version features four sets of LED lights, one each for the categories of save, spend, donate and invest. (I wanted a visual representation of each category because I'm infatuated with the theory and practice of "glanceable" user interfaces.) Through a mobile or web app, parents and their kids can set goals for each of these categories. As progress is made toward the goals through allowances, birthday money or doing extra chores, for example, Mom or Dad logs into the app and inputs the amount saved; the more progress that's made, the more LEDs light up on the pig.

For now, DigiPig doesn't connect directly to financial institutions. It relies on what we’ve affectionately nicknamed "sneaker banking," which means the parents must move the money around manually in the background. In the future, I could see us doing something like partnering with a child-development debit card that gets tied directly to the LED lights. But the goal isn't to manage the logistics of money transfer; it's to educate and engage kids.

While DigiPig is being piloted in its current form, my peers and I will continue iterative work on the development of its "brains" until it can deliver a fully engaging and rewarding experience. The design of the pig form itself, however, was a much simpler process. In the span of about a weekend, I built the prototype in my basement with a 3D printer, CNC router and mostly off-the-shelf products. It's amazing that we can now build and validate ideas in a matter of days, even hours.

Ultimately, if the pilot (and our continued development) goes well, I'd love to see DigiPig produced as two different offerings: First, as an off-the-shelf product our financial representatives can offer to their clients with children. And second, I'd love to see this developed as a STEM teaching kit that will allow kids to continue learning about financial literacy through coding exercises, like writing functions that apply compound-interest calculations. Both offerings, I think, will help showcase our company's dedication to fintech innovation and the value of extending that commitment to the next generation of savers.

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