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Sonoma County co-founder of Flourish Fi has a passion for helping the underserved tune up their finances

An app with a Wheel of Fortune component may be fun, but it serves a higher purpose, and that’s teaching underserved communities about money management, according to its creators.

Pedro Moura and Jessica Eting are the co-founders of Flourish Fi, maker of a proprietary platform licensed to banks, which in turn offer the app to customers.

The pair’s mission is based on helping underserved communities like the ones they came from.

Flourish Fi’s app works to encourage financial responsibility through incentives, such as that Wheel of Fortune spin that rewards customers with a few dollars when they make a loan payment on time. Trivia tests and true-or-false games help users understand the value of saving.

And it will give a nudge when a payment is coming due to help avoid a late fee.

Flourish Fi’s app was also designed to help banks better understand their customers, how they behave and how they interact, Moura said.

Finding their way

Flourish Fi’s roots go back to when the pair met in 2015 while studying at the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley. They quickly discovered they had come from similar backgrounds: low-income, hard-working families that hustled to provide and save so the children could go to college.

Moura was a teenager when he immigrated from Brazil with his family. He saw his mom working hard cleaning houses and trying to save enough money to send her two boys to college. He, in turn, helped in any way could, delivering newspapers and working at Amici’s Pizza in downtown San Rafael.

“I was undocumented for a long period of time, and was able to get residency in 2010, and once I did, the whole world opened for me,” Moura said. “So, I said, ‘Where can I make a lot of money and help my family?’’

He picked the financial services industry.

“I worked at Morgan Stanley in wealth management,” he said. “It was not for me. There weren’t many people that look like me and it was not very rewarding.”

Then he joined Chase, working in one of the bank’s branches and speaking Spanish or Portuguese to Latinx clients to help them open accounts.

“But once they were applying for credit, they’d get declined. And once they tried to invest, they didn't have the minimum (amount of money),” he said. “The products weren’t designed for everyday people.”

Eting, Flourish Fi’s chief operating officer, was born in Modesto to immigrant parents, her father from the Philippines and her mom a third-generation Mexican American. Money was tight but when Eting’s father died after a lengthy coma when she was a teenager, it meant starting over, she said.

“After my father got sick, then everything landed on my mom to be able to finish raising my brother and I on her own,” she said. “There was a time where we were back on Section 8, and we had to use food stamps again. These are all things that my mother had come from and had really been hoping to move away from.” Section 8 is a federally funded program for low-income housing.

Eting, a self-described overachiever, decided early on that education would be key to her future.

“There was never a question of, ‘Are you going to go to college?’” said the Sacramento resident. “It was, ‘What college are you going to go to?”

It takes patience

To date, the pair has raised about $2 million for their company, mostly in venture capital, and they continue to raise funds, said CEO Moura, a Petaluma resident. They also have received a $150,000 grant from Mastercard.

“The goal in the next year and a half is to get to $2 million in revenue,” Moura said, adding the hope is that Flourish Fi’s current investment round will result in the company being able to break even.

Moura said the goal is to be able to increase impact and attract investors to hopefully build a global organization.

"It’s just a different kind of venture than building a restaurant or a mom-and-pop shop, where you've got to be profitable from the early days,” he said.

The pair, who each have their own families, built their client base by “co-creating” their innovative technology platform with financial institutions, Moura said, including his network of previous employers and some investors.

“Jessica and I were starting to gain traction for the results of what we were doing, so early on, we were talking to more forward-thinking institutions that were willing to work with startups,” he said.

“Now we are an official partner of Mastercard,” Moura said, adding that has created more visibility for Flourish Fi. The company currently licenses its technology platform to seven financial institutions, mostly in Brazil, Bolivia and, soon, in Ecuador and Costa Rica. While they have a couple of U.S. customers, the company is primarily focused on Latin America, where Moura sees the greatest need.

Flourish Fi has a team of 20 people, of which more than half work in engineering and product design. The company operates remotely.

“We are impacting the lives of people, but we also are influencing financial institutions to have more responsible products versus just charging people overdraft,” he said. “Money is in the fabric of our society and products have not historically been designed for everyday people and people that are starting out.”

Cheryl Sarfaty covers tourism, hospitality, health care and employment. She previously worked for a Gannett daily newspaper in New Jersey and NJBIZ, the state’s business journal. Cheryl has freelanced for business journals in Sacramento, Silicon Valley, San Francisco and Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from California State University, Northridge. Reach her at cheryl.sarfaty@busjrnl.com or 707-521-4259.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify the company has a team of 20, made up of both employees and contractors; and that Eting’s father passed away after being in a lengthy coma.

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