A 22-year-old CEO wants to educate Gen Z with an app he compares to the Duolingo of financial literacy

A 22-year-old CEO wants to educate Gen Z with an app he compares to the Duolingo of financial literacy
Bolun Li at a conference speaking about Zogo.Courtesy of Zogo
  • Zogo is a fintech startup from Gen Z cofounders that seeks to make learning about finance fun.
  • Cofounder Bolun Li, 22, compares the app to Duolingo, in how it offers games and quizzes about various financial topics.
  • Li told Insider about the launch, why he thinks Gen Zers struggle with finance, and how the pandemic changed things.

Bolun Li realized back in high school that financial institutions have no idea how to connect with Gen Z.

Li recalls how bank spokespeople would come to his school, St. John's Prep on the North Shore of Boston, and give two-to-three-hour lectures. In the end, they would leave a flyer, say "open a checking account and you'll get $20," and just leave, he told Business Insider.

"I just felt it was super boring," Li told Business Insider, "and didn't really teach our generation the most important part of finance."
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This is a problem, he said, because it's one reason why Gen Zers don't understand or care about finance and economics. Citing a three-year study done by the FINRA Investor Education Foundation, Marketwatch reported in 2019 that the number of people who could correctly answer questions regarding inflation, bond prices, financial risks, mortgage rates, and interest rates had slipped from 42% to 34% between 2009 and 2018.

When asked five questions regarding finance, only 17% of those between the ages of 18 and 34 in 2018 were able to answer four out of the five questions correctly, compared to 48% of those over the age of 55.

So Li got together with two friends, Simon Komlos, 25 and Simran Singh, 22, and launched Zogo, an education app that seeks to make financial literacy fun for young people.
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A 22-year-old CEO wants to educate Gen Z with an app he compares to the Duolingo of financial literacy
The Gen Z cofounders of Zogo (R) Simon Komlos (C) Bolun Li and (L) Simran Singh.Courtesy of Zogo

Li compares Zogo, which officially launched in 2019, to the popular language app Duolingo, in how users can take quizzes and play games to help further their understanding of various financial topics. Users are rewarded with tokens and can save up "pineapples" to redeem gift cards.

The CEO spoke to LinkedIn News in late January about how Gen Z is poised to disrupt finance. Zogo also partners with financial institutions, such as banks and credit unions, to allow users to link their banking accounts with the app. It's also seeking to launch a brand ambassador program, though that's still in its early stages.
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Li told Business Insider that Zogo has over 100,000 users right now, up from the 13,000 it had in February, and the company has been profitable since March.

It has already teamed up with over 70 financial institutions including MassMutual, First Bank and Trust, and Diamond Credit Union.

'They don't really know how to file their taxes'

Li said he saw Gen Z's lack of financial understanding firsthand, as he was giving out finance surveys around Duke's campus and chatting with peers to gauge how much young people knew about the topic.
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He found that topics such as credit cards and investments have become common knowledge over the years, as information on them has become widely available online, and apps such as Robinhood have made investing information more accessible.

But young people are just clueless about some topics, he said, such as taxes and insurance deductibles.

"[Many Gen Zers] don't really know how to file their taxes," Li said. "And they almost feel embarrassed to ask for advice from their friends or their families, because it seems like it's something that everyone should know how to do."
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This is one reason why Zogo's main goal is to make financial literacy accessible to the general public, no matter how complicated that may seem. The app has 300 modules that cover a range of topics, and only take one to two minutes to complete.
A 22-year-old CEO wants to educate Gen Z with an app he compares to the Duolingo of financial literacy
An example of how the app is formatted.Courtesy of Zogo

The trio primarily bootstrapped the company, Li said, but they have taken on a few investors including the former CEO of the private financial information company Sageworks, the former CEO of software company Baker Hill, and seed accelerator Techstars.

Since its launch, users have flooded Zogo's Instagram page to talk about how the app has contributed to their increase in financial knowledge, with many praising its simple approach to financial knowledge.
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Others spoke more directly about how the app has impacted them. An account named Nova_Nurse, for example, wrote on a post that using Zogo has taught her to make more mature financial decisions as an adult.

"My parents lived paycheck to paycheck and did not further their education past high school," she wrote. "I basically have had to learn a lot on my own, and ever since I downloaded the zogo app I've become more financially responsible, aware and conscious of what I purchase."

The platform has seen an increase in users amid the pandemic

Zogo has seen a spike in users last year, Li said, partly due to the recession brought forth by the pandemic, which has threatened the economic situations of many young people, Li said, including himself.
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Li graduated Duke in June, a year early, and began working full-time on Zogo, meaning he is one of the thousands of recession graduates who are at risk of ending up like the older millennials who graduated during the Great Recession. Recession graduates face grim job prospects and economic stagnation that can last over a decade, according to a 2019 Stanford study.

People are not incentivized to learn about personal finance until they start to see the terrible consequences of not knowing it

Meanwhile, the student debt load reached $1.6 trillion last year, and income has only risen by $29 since 1974, adjusted for inflation, while the cost of living has soared over a similar timeframe.

Gen Zers are expected to inherit much of this crisis, and Li said he believes Zogo can "make an impact" on Gen Zers during "this critical time."
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"People are not incentivized to learn about personal finance until they start to see the terrible consequences of not knowing it," he said.

"That's what's happening in the world right now."

Zogo wants to empower Gen Zers

Jeff Mattonelli, a financial advisor with Van Leeuwen & Company, told Business Insider that the world of financial planning can be overwhelming for many young people. But proper financial education can affect everything from which student loans are chosen to which investment and retirement account a person decides to start with.
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Li blames Gen Z's lack of financial literacy on two things: he doesn't think it's being taught properly in school, and he doesn't think parents are doing a good job teaching it at home.

According to the 2020 biannual Survey of the States from the Council for Economic Education, five states plus the District of Columbia don't have personal finance standards or requirements for public schools: Alaska, California, Montana, New Mexico, and Wyoming.

States are increasingly requiring personal finance and economic classes. Per the same survey, 21 states now require high school students to take a class in personal finance content, up from 17 in 2018. Meanwhile, 25 states require students to take an economics course, compared to 21 in 2018.
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Li said it's good that more educational institutions are requiring financial education, but it will take more than schooling to get Gen Zers to care more about personal finance. "It also requires some kind of grassroots movement," he said. "For all the Gen Zers to be spreading it to their peers not just from teachers to students, but from student to students."

And parents have to step up, too. "We read a study the other day that parents are less comfortable talking about money than sex to their children," Li said. "What we want to do at Zogo is to empower all the Gen Zers and have them spread this information among their peers as well."
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