Field Notes
Engineering Financial Literacy

Interdisciplinary Epiphany


Ben Knelman created a social enterprise that helps first-time bank account holders in the developing world learn how to save money. 

Juntos Columbia launch.

Juntos Columbia launch.

Ben began his start-up in a class, though he didn’t know it at the time. For one project he engaged low-income people who had little access to traditional banking services, and experimented with text messages as a way to help people establish savings behaviors.

A year after the class was over he reconnected with one of his test users: Karina, a janitor at Stanford. She had continued to use Ben’s original prototype and was proud to report that she had saved $2000 over the previous 12 months.

Ben knew he couldn’t let the project drop. Through more classes he deepened his skills and passion to launch a business and serve those on the financial fringes.

That business became Juntos, which has won several awards for financial inclusion, and which Ben still leads today. Juntos is reaching over 1M people in seven countries in Central America, South East Asia, and East Africa. 

Juntos conducts field research in Indonesia, the latest market it has begun to serve.

Juntos conducts field research in Indonesia, the latest market it
has begun to serve.

Reviewing an early version.

Reviewing an early version.

Six months after I started Juntos, I realized ‘Oh my gosh — I am doing microeconomics!’ But I’m doing it in a totally different form than I ever thought I would be. And this way is so much more interesting and fun to me than any of that analytical research ever would have been.

We are starting now to have access to sample sizes of people to do some of the most interesting behavioral research on finances for the poor (particularly savings); more than any of the leading researchers in the world. All of the famous professors have sample sizes of only a couple hundred people... or they are doing it in a lab setting. We are able to see what people are doing in the real world! Most behavioral economists don’t get to do the experiments that we are getting to do.
— Ben Knelman

Ben holds degrees in Economics, Russian Literature, and Engineering from Stanford University, and is the CEO and founder of Juntos. He took three classes while a graduate student.