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Mobile Tech and Personal Finance: The Perfect Storm to Change the Financial Behaviors of the Populations That Need It Most

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Recently, the FDIC National Survey of Unbanked and Underbanked Households revealed that 28 percent of U.S. households are underserved by mainstream financial services. Eight percent are unbanked, meaning they do not use traditional banking services at all. Twenty percent are underbanked, meaning they have at least a checking or savings account, but they also rely on alternative financial services for some of their banking needs. Bottom line: too many working Americans lack access to mainstream financial products and have low levels of financial capability.

But then, enter mobile. Mobile technologies have the potential to close the financial capability and access gaps. Use of mobile devices is ubiquitous and growing, especially among younger Americans and those who are underserved by the mainstream financial services industry. Mobile technologies can help consumers gain access to products, information, and tools in a timely, personal, and recurring way, helping them to make wise financial choices through a channel that offers unprecedented convenience and flexibility.

Yet this potential has yet to be fully realized. Sure, many of us can access mobile banking on our phone, but that doesn't push the limits of innovation to truly increase financial access and build consumer financial decision-making skills. For these reasons, the U.S. Department of the Treasury and two of the country's leading nonprofits focused on financial capability and access -- the D2D Fund and the Center for Financial Services Innovation (CFSI) -- recently ran MyMoneyAppUp, a public challenge for ideas and designs for mobile financial apps.

And it is why D2D Fund and CFSI are now running the Financial Capability Development Competition (FinCapDev, for short), a $100,000, resource-packed nationwide challenge that will facilitate the build of mobile apps that fully exploit the capabilities of mobile devices to help change our personal financial habits and behaviors. To make FinCapDev succeed, numerous brand name tech and financial services companies have joined as Competition partners, including the Applied Innovation Institute, Braintree, Citi, Dell Social Innovation Challenge, EachScape, Facebook, H&R Block, ideas42, MasterCard and Yodlee. They're providing software development kits, app development environment access, expert consulting and networking to FinCapDev finalists.

Here's how it works. FinCapDev is open to anyone over the age of 14 and provided that at least one team member is a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident. While the proposal period opened in early October, there are still a few days left: the proposal deadline is December 10, 2012. Applicants can get started here: fincapdev.com/apply.

Shortly after the call for submissions is closed, a panel of tech and finance experts will evaluate the proposals. Finalists will be chosen based on innovativeness of the idea, likelihood of improving users' financial access and/or capability, concept feasibility, and potential for sustainability.

Then it's time to get to work. Finalists will build through the first half of 2013, taking advantage of resources offered including up to $10,000 in startup cash stipends, technical resources as well as access to leading minds from the technology and financial services partners mentioned above.

And one more thing: finalists will have a chance to win one of five cash prizes totaling $100,000 at an app demo event in June.

So there it is. Financial services firms, nonprofits, tech companies and people with real ideas coming together at the intersection of personal finance and mobile technology all in the name of helping Americans improve their personal finance behaviors. We're excited to see what happens.

To learn more about FinCapDev including rules, applicant guidelines, and requirements, visit fincapdev.com or follow the Competition on Twitter at @fincapdev. Special thanks to the generous support of Ford Foundation, Citi Foundation and Omidyar Network.

Timothy Flacke is the Executive Director of the D2D Fund, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that strengthens the financial opportunity and security of low and moderate income consumers by innovating, incubating and stimulating new financial products and policies.