| Blog

Newsletter: The Bad News about Good Ideas

Feb 1, 2010 5:29:00 AM / by Tim McCarthy

Good ideas in business are just the beginning.  To be successful, one must add flexible planning and tremendous attention to detail.  [more]

There are few things I know for certain but one is this: In the USA, wherever there is a profitable market, businesses will form to serve that market.

Currently I believe that a vacuum exists in the market for financial services.

Banks and brokers and planners have up-scaled to serve households with $75,000+ annual income. That makes sense; the bigger the bank, the more efficient it must become and therefore banks clamor to serve the 20-30% that holds 70-80% of the wealth.

As financial services left that space, a vacuum was created in the market for lower scale customers. Small banks, savings and loans and credit unions serve some of this market but not much since their span is limited and they must also minimize their risk.

Enter predatory financial practices, the check cashers and payday lenders who have seized this lower income market by marketing high cost, risk-calculated money services including credit cards, payday loans, check cashing and tax refund advances.

And voila, we now have in our country an industry that exceeds $100 billion in fees through charging rates such as 25% credit cards that charge fees even when you don’t use them; 3% "off the top" fees for cashing paychecks and 400% APR for one or two week payday loans.

This article will not judge the fairness of all that – I am a student of free enterprise and while I have feelings about this I also know that “it’s just the way our system works.”

But as a student of marketing, I see an opportunity.

And so our foundation has been working with Rubicon National Social Innovations on a loan concept they call "Emerge." If launched, it would be a national “throw back” to the days when community banks partnered with their customers on financial matters.

What if, through their employers, lower income consumers could get financial services for a fair price?

Our foundation is currently researching this market with RNSI to see if this market need for more fairly priced financial products can somehow be served more fairly and efficiently.

Most “working poor” in the USA struggle to get from paycheck to paycheck.

And while there are many reasons for this, their situation is not helped by $45 check bouncing fees or paying $50 to borrow $600 for one or two weeks.

Through the relative safety of their employers, Emerge would fill this need by marketing similar services at a fairer price.

More importantly, imbedded in our services will be financial literacy training. We believe the problem is not just a surface need for loans - it's much more complex than that. And I believe in the old saw that insanity is doing the same things over and over and expecting your life to change.

And so we will work with RNSI and others to develop a suite of services that treats folks fairly. We will also help them learn the simple disciplines like balancing their checkbook and saving for a rainy day just like you and I learned from our parents in our middle class households.

So, if this is such a good idea, what's the bad news?

The bad news is that the trip from a great idea to the marketplace is a long one. And it is one that requires perseverance that borders on insanity.

In the last week, I’ve sat on conference calls where we labored item-by-item through long to-do sheets.

Then I made ten calls this morning to banks and employers who we hope to work with. Most of these calls, of course, will not be returned.

I’ve written plans, concept statements for research and financial calculations - most of which will never see the light of day.

And then this morning, a friend reminded me that there is more chance this idea will fail than any chance that it will succeed. In fact, generally speaking the odds for success on new products such as these are about 999-to-1 against us.

So, the reminder that seems worth sharing is that good ideas are worthless without patience and persistence.

In the case of Emerge, I figure: What better cause should I pursue?

Right, this is a good one.

So, the bad news of good ideas is that it takes way more than a good idea to succeed. It takes crushing attention to detail and very hard work and an optimism that is usually a little ahead of reality.

The good news is that if you fail pursuing a noble idea, you’ll be the better just for having pursued it.

Good luck in all you do, in your noble effort to change our world.

Tags: Newsletter, Risk Management, Social Business, Innovation, Marketing

Tim McCarthy

Written by Tim McCarthy

Subscribe to Email Updates

Lists by Topic

see all

Posts by Topic

See all

Recent Posts