Sorting money, sorting lives

PocketSmith co-founder Jason Leong in the company’s headquarters in Dunedin. Photo: Gerard O'Brien.
PocketSmith co-founder Jason Leong in the company’s headquarters in Dunedin. Photo: Gerard O'Brien.
Talking about money is still largely a taboo topic - and Jason Leong wants to do something about that.

Mr Leong is a co-founder of tech company PocketSmith, which offers a simple budgeting software tool that helps people manage their finances.

Next week is Sorted Money Week,  an annual event comprising activities across New Zealand that focus on financial capability.

Debt is a focus this year and the Commission for Financial Capability will start the week by releasing the findings of a survey on debt and New Zealanders’ attitudes towards borrowing.

PocketSmith has used a question-and-answer format to talk to business owners and television personalities about money and the results will be published on social media every day throughout the week.

Questions included what was the best thing they had ever done with money and also what was the worst, and it had been "quite a bit of fun", Mr Leong said.

It was all part of PocketSmith’s bigger mission to help people build a better relationship with their money.Mr Leong co-founded PocketSmith in June 2008 and it was now used in more than 200 countries.

There were 15 team members, including Mr Leong, who were mostly based in Dunedin. There was one in Christchurch and three in the North Island, while co-founder James Wigglesworth was working from Thames.

While PocketSmith built software, the big goal was to help people be better with their money and build a better relationship — "and that’s actually quite a big challenge", Mr Leong said.

Asked why money was still such a taboo topic, both in New Zealand and abroad, Mr Leong said it depended on a number of things, including a person’s upbringing and how they were brought up about money, and personal circumstances.

A few years ago, PocketSmith conducted a focus group and asked people how they felt about money. Some said they loved it and loved collecting it, and others hated it because they never had enough of it and it brought them anxiety. So there were two polarising views and both were equally valid.

"I feel like the mission we have in front of us is quite a big one, to make money management more culturally relevant," he said.

It should start with education; children were not being taught about it early enough, Mr Leong believed.

Most people kept their money at "arms length".

"It’s a function; they use it to get by in life."

If people did not have their finances sorted,  it could cause a huge amount of anxiety. That could have "terrible" ramifications on the likes of relationships.

PocketSmith’s software had made a difference to people’s lives, including that of one user who said it had saved their marriage, he said.

Part of the company’s plan for the remainder of the year was to better understand how its users were using the software.

Users were people who knew they wanted to be better with their finances; they were  trying to get out of debt, or save, or get their finances under control.

With personal finance, there was "no one size fits all", so PocketSmith had to develop a wide range of features.

One feature was linking finances to memories, which was all about understanding transactions, he said.

Earlier this week, a group of New Zealand tech company leaders visited some Dunedin tech companies, including PocketSmith, as part of an Asia New Zealand Foundation initiative aimed at helping tech companies thrive in Asia.

Some expressed surprise at the amount of innovation  in the Dunedin tech sector.

Mr Leong was "chuffed" they chose Dunedin and, while it was only a short trip, he hoped there would more, similar visits.

"It’s hard being in Dunedin; you don’t really know what people think from outside," he said, while pointing out there was "world-beating stuff" going on in the city.

He loved Dunedin and believed it was fortunate that it cost "less to be happy" in the city, citing rising consumer debt in Asian nations that he believed was fuelled by people’s need to satisfy their craving for happiness by buying things.

In Dunedin, happiness could be gained by going for a walk. There was fresh air and space, he said.

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