Instead of shopping for bargains this Black Friday, Tanya Van Court wants you to use her Goalsetter.co app to open a savings accounts for a child and introduce the young saver to financial literacy through game-based quizzes, memes and GIFs.
As founder and CEO of Goalsetter.co, Van Court is a Black woman running a financial technology company that focuses exclusively on kids. While her app is for all kids, she hopes her work will help to narrow the wealth gap between Blacks and whites.
"None of us can ignore the fact that the wealth gap has so many contributing factors to it," Van Court said. She said she understands that an app cannot "reverse 400 years" of oppression, racial inequality and economic underinvestment. "But it can reverse one component that has absolutely contributed to the wealth gap — the lack of financial education and how to build wealth," she said.
The typical white family has eight times the wealth of the typical Black family, according to a 2019 Federal Reserve report. The median wealth of white families was $188,200 at the end of 2019, while the median wealth of Black families was $24,100, the report said.
The original idea for Goalsetter stemmed from a conversation Van Court had with her 15-year-old daughter, Gabrielle, about money when she was turning 9.
"I asked Gabrielle what she wanted for her birthday, and she said 'an investment account and a bike,'" Van Court said. "I said, 'Perfect.' She had a kid goal and a grown-up goal — a short-term and a long-term goal."
As she pondered her daughter's answer, she thought: "What if every kid understood key financial concepts, learned delayed gratification and practiced it by saving for the things they wanted most? What if we could rescue them from the consumer mentality that we as adults often impose on them before they ever learn about money?"
Van Court had been teaching Gabrielle about money, hoping she would not make the mistakes she made as a young executive. Even though she earned a great salary and held a million dollars in stock and stock options, she lacked financial literacy and lost it all when the tech bubble burst in 2001.
So as her daughter's birthday approached, she made her an offer. At the time, Van Court was working at Nickelodeon, where she led its digital preschool and parenting businesses.
"I said, 'If you save $100, I'll match you $100 and we'll open an investment account,'" said Van Court, who lives in Brooklyn, New York. "She asked, 'What is an investment account?' I explained in 8-year-old terms."
Gabrielle did extra chores and academic work to earn money, but after she had earned just $30, she decided that instead of getting stuff for her birthday, she would ask people to give her the $70 so she'd have enough for an investment account.
Inspired by Gabrielle, Van Court was convinced that there was a fun way to teach children about money. She left corporate America to develop her app. She knew she had the expertise, because she had developed products for moms, who, she found, normally handled money for their children.
"I came from Nickelodeon, where I ran Noggin.com and NickJr.com," Van Court said. "I came with domain expertise and experience in how you engage moms and kids and simultaneously educate them."
The venture capitalists from whom she sought funding told her that fintechs that focused on kids were not good investments. Then, other companies like hers — but not owned by Black people or women — popped up and the same venture capitalists funded them. She doubled back and asked again for funding.
This time, she said, they told her, "Now you have well-funded competitors, so we can't fund you."
Van Court turned to family, friends and organizations like the Stanford University Black Alumni Association and the Pipeline Angels, an organization that invests in female entrepreneurs.
Today, the Goalsetter app has been downloaded more than 60,000 times, Van Court said. The average family using the app has saved almost $200, and Goalsetter recently had its second family save more than $10,000.
Her kids debit card, Cashola, offers game-based financial literacy quizzes and a feature called "Learn Before You Burn," which automatically freezes kids' cards on Sunday morning if they haven't finished their financial literacy quiz for the week. Once they take the quiz, the cards turn back on. Parents also have control that allows them to turn cards on or off. The financial education is from kindergarten through 12th grade.
When Kemba Dunham heard that Van Court had developed an app to help kids become more fiscally responsible, she signed up her two children. She said that her family never taught her about money and that in college she got a credit card and she racked up so much debt that it took her a decade to recover.
"Once I had kids and they got old enough to understand money, I realized I didn't have a vehicle to help them," said Dunham, who first got her daughter a teen credit card with another company.
Her daughter was not learning about money, and Dunham said she found herself putting money on the card and letting her daughter spend it. When she switched to Goalsetter, everybody's behavior changed.
"We talk about money now," Dunham said. "The Goalsetter allows us to engage with money in a way that is very useful. ... You can tell family and friends to donate to something they are saving for. It allows them to be strategic and more thoughtful about money."
Her two teens have had the app for a couple of years, and her son has had the debit card for a few months. She likes that her son has to take quizzes to use his Cashola debit card.
"I see him being more intentional about how he spends it," said Dunham, who can observe his usage.
Her son, Nile Mpela, 14, said he loves the app and his Cashola debit card.
"It opened a new world, because I could move money and make investments," said Nile, who wants to become an architect. "Through the 'lit' quizzes I learned more information about interest and how much you can save over time. Since you have to do the quizzes, it implants good information in your head, and I believe I can make good money decisions when I get older."
Seble Williams, also of Brooklyn, said she found out about Goalsetter when a friend started using GoalCards — digital gift cards — for her children.
"We use the app to manage their chores," said Williams, the mother of girls ages 7, 9 and 12. "You can assign chores to each child and assign amounts. ... They can get $5 a week automatically for chores, or you can control it, and if they only did part of their chores, you could just give $3."
Williams said she uses the app for birthday parties and gifts. "I tell people to give to their GoalCard," she said. "You can send out a link with the birthday invitation and people can send money. I also give out GoalCards to friends for kids' birthday gifts."
But her favorite feature is the literacy quizzes, which she said she could not find on any other fintech apps for kids that she researched.
Now all her children use the Goalsetter apps, but she said her oldest, Tseday, 12, uses more of the features, taking quizzes and using the debit card.
"I love Goalsetter because it teaches me things I never knew about money," Tseday said. "I know money is about so much more than saving and spending. I know it's about compound interest and the Rule of 72 and frugality." The Rule of 72 allows you to figure out how long it will take for your savings to double.
When she wanted to save for a game, she did extra chores and took extra quizzes.
"Now I'm saving for a new laptop," said Tseday, who is also saving for dance accessories next and has learned to set priorities.
Van Court is working on a number of ideas and partnerships, talking with banks and some schools and developing mutual funds for kids to invest in. She already has "Cred-Lit," a score kids get for taking the financial literacy quizzes. Van Court hopes to work with credit bureaus to get them to use the score to give kids better interest rates and other financial terms when they turn 18.
She said she will do whatever she can to close the wealth gap and to ensure that kids do not fall into the consumer trap, driven by insecurities to buy expensive cars, shoes and clothes to achieve the appearance of success.
"You spend your last dime trying to buy self-respect," Van Court said. "We are trying to undo that. You don't need red bottom shoes. Instead, you need to save and put money in the stock market."