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NC fintech startup gamifies financial education, lands American Express pilot

by Chantal Allam

This North Carolina startup says the key to teaching financial literacy to Generation Z is simple: games and incentives.

Meet Zogo Finance, a Durham-based fintech startup founded by a Gen Zer himself, recent Duke University grad Bolun Li.

Since launching its gamified financial literacy app back in 2019, it has hit 300,0000 users, 7 million module lessons completed, partnered with 85 financial institutions, and, most recently, started a pilot program with American Express.

“Our partnership with American Express was a major breakthrough as the first global financial institution to bring us on as a partner,” Li told Hypepotamus.

“It also signaled the importance of how banks, credit unions, and other FIs (financial institutions) are increasingly interested in engaging with next-gen audiences and winning over the Gen Z consumer.”

The startup is planning a number of launches with other major financial institutions. There are also plans to start expanding into other sectors beyond finance.

“So stay posted,” says Li.

Back in 2013, Bolun Li was a high school foreign exchange student from China living in Boston, Massachusetts.

To cover his expenses, his parents gave him a credit card – much to their detriment.

“By the end of the month my parents would show me the big red statement, and I would have no clue how I spent so much money,” recalled Li.

“I knew that was definitely not the best way of teaching myself personal finance.”

So while a freshman at Duke University, he came up with the idea of Zogo,  a mobile banking app that teaches teenagers how to manage their finances and establish good habits early on.

How it works: Financial institutions partner with Zogo to co-brand the app and use it as a tool to engage, attract and learn about GenZ. As users progress through the app, they earn points — in the form of virtual pineapples — that can be redeemed for real-life rewards such as Starbucks, Amazon, and Walmart gift cards.

The word is getting out.

Zogo recently went viral on TikTok, where younger audiences are sharing finance guidance. It was also the top app for education in the App store for a time.

It’s also won numerous industry accolades, including “Best of Show” at Finovate Fall 2019 and the NACUSO 2019 Next Big Idea Competition.

“Zogo has scaled its user base entirely from organic growth, whether through word of mouth, positive testimonials, or referral among friends,” Li says.

“We’ve spent $0 on paid ads, and we’re continuing to see our downloads rapidly grow.“

To date, the startup has raised $300,000 from key investors and advisors, including Techstars, a former CEO of Sageworks, and faculty from Duke University.

Li says that’s good enough for now.

“Since we’ve maintained profitability throughout our growth, we haven’t raised additional funds. This is important to us as a company that is founded by Gen Z for Gen Z.”


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