Can an app build generational wealth? These Latina creators say yes

For Miriam Torres Sanchez, growing up in an immigrant Latino household often meant little to no discussions around budgets, savings or financial planning. Instead, her parents worried about one thing — not having enough.

“I saw them constantly worried about money, or worried about providing a roof over our head,” said Torres, 21. Her parents have worked in low-income jobs all their lives. Her father laid down cement and tile, her mom worked the cash register at a bakery and cake-decorating supply store in East Los Angeles.

But the UCLA political science major, currently in her junior year, has taken a more deliberate approach to money and finances. She already has a modest investment portfolio, and has opened a checking as well as a savings account.

Torres has been using SUMA (which in Spanish means "add"), an app she found while scrolling through Instagram. Aimed at young Latinos, the app substitutes the usually dry financial jargon with game-style features that mix culture and Generation Z sensibilities: Experts teach how to "sweat" debt at a virtual yoga studio; a lesson on financial risk takes place at a mariachi music plaza; and there's a credit "cocina" (kitchen). The aim is to make financial planning understandable — and doable.

The app, Torres said, has made her familiar with financial terms and tools that she wasn't aware of before, such as a 401K retirement account, credit and the stock market.

Torres' leg up on financial planning, especially when compared with her parents, is precisely what the SUMA founders intended — and hope to keep replicating.

Taking 'the fear away'

The app's majority-Latina executive team, one of the few in the financial app space — of the 30,000 fintech companies, only 0.3% are Latina-led — has an ambitious mission: to help narrow the Latino wealth gap.

Average Latino households have only 15% to 20% as much net wealth as non-Latino white households, according to the Federal Reserve. The median Hispanic household had a net worth of $52,190 in 2020 versus a non-Hispanic household median net worth of $195,600, according to census figures.

Young Latinos, says SUMA co-founder and CEO Beatriz Acevedo, are the ones influencing family members — and are key to financial planning. (SUMA)
Young Latinos, says SUMA co-founder and CEO Beatriz Acevedo, are the ones influencing family members — and are key to financial planning. (SUMA)

The key to saving and building wealth, the SUMA founders — who call themselves the "si" suite — say is through early financial planning. “Finance in general is something that people are kind of afraid of, [they] don’t trust many institutions or brands. And we wanted to just take that fear away,” said SUMA co-founder and CEO Beatriz Acevedo.

A key way to boost wealth building among the nation’s 60 million Latinos, said Acevedo, is through its youth. “They are the ones influencing their older parents and their tíos and tías and abuelas (uncles, aunts and grandmothers), and also their younger family members.”

SUMA’s approach, Acevedo said, is working. According to the company’s data, the site has seen 24% month-over-month growth since May of 2021, and it’s reaching about 5 million people a month across social media. A little more than half of their total audience is between the ages of 18 and 35 — and 75% of its users are female.

Financial institutions don't know how to properly address younger Latinos and their potential, says SUMA chief of strategy Daniela Corrente. (SUMA)
Financial institutions don't know how to properly address younger Latinos and their potential, says SUMA chief of strategy Daniela Corrente. (SUMA)

Daniela Corrente recently became SUMA’s chief of strategy and business officer after SUMA merged with her company, Reel, whose model is "save now, buy later." That contrasts with the more common "buy now, pay later" model, which, SUMA's leadership points out, gets more people, especially women, into debt.

Financial institutions don't know how to properly address younger Latinos and their potential, said Corrente. SUMA research found many young Latino consumers help manage up to three financial accounts belonging to their family members.

SUMA is integrating features from Corrente’s Reel platform, starting with a chip-in savings tool in which family and friends can allocate funds toward a certain goal or acquisition.

Bringing down the 'intimidation'

Mary Hernández, SUMA’s chief operating officer and co-founder, and Acevedo are using the experience gained from Mitú, a successful digital media brand for young Latinos they helped to co-found. Acevedo and her husband, Doug Greiff, sold the brand in 2020 to Latido Networks.

SUMA chief operating officer and co-founder Mary Hernández says their hope is to
SUMA chief operating officer and co-founder Mary Hernández says their hope is to

Mitú quickly became a leader in reaching young Latinos by publishing relatable bicultural digital content like videos, news and memes.

“If we can be that company yet again," though now focused on fintech, said Hernández, "hopefully we’ll bring down the barriers and all that intimidation that potentially people have — of finance, and they’ll want to engage and they’ll want to activate."

SUMA's emphasis on planning and saving, according to Acevedo, has been especially relevant in the last few years.

“This is a company that launched in the middle of the pandemic," she said. "Seeing how Latinos were the hardest hit, not just with death but also economic hardship at that time, I’ve seen how little emergency savings we had collectively as families."

The app offers SUMAversity, an online educational resource with a curriculum that includes “Dinero 101 Bootcamp.” Users can learn how to budget, understand credit and how to invest and retire.

As users learn, they can earn NFTs (nonfungible tokens) like “the baller of the class,” collectible badges and an Arizona State University certificate upon completion of all the courses, which can boost graduate credentials when applying for schools, jobs or credit.

Apart from the app’s free features, it also offers a subscription tier for coaching.

Though the app was designed to appeal to younger users, Acevedo said she's spoken to many people since SUMA's creation — even older, successful professionals — who've told her they never learned about ways to avoid debt or how to use tools to build wealth.

“We have consumers in their 50s completing our Dinero bootcamps and we love this. It’s never too early or too late to start building wealth,” said Acevedo.

SUMA projects that by 2025, it'll see more than $32 million in profit and growth.

“We just had this hypothesis — following a little bit of the playbook from Mitú,” said Acevedo, that “building a company that was truly made by Latinos for Latinos and that really leaned hard into our Latinidad and doing in-culture content, financial tools, product services — could work.”

Silvia Patiño, the company’s head of product, described SUMA as “people fintech.”

In Los Angeles, Krizia Flores, 37, opened an individual retirement account after learning about it through SUMA, and opened a credit line for her small business, Concrete Geometric, which sells DIY home decor kits and offers arts and crafts classes and workshops. Flores is now looking into taking SUMA’s “budget master” course.

“This would have been — like super helpful just growing up," Flores said. "But even now — thinking of the aunts that want to start businesses ... it’s a helpful tool for them.”

This article was originally published on NBCNews.com