A SavvyInterview – Jamal & Frenel

A SavvyInterviewAs SavvyReaders are well aware, I am a strong advocate for financial literacy and encouraging individuals to learn more, through as many mediums as possible, hence our SavvyRecommendations. I’m pleased that Jamal and Frenel, the CEO and President behind Freedom Quest, an experiential game focused on financial literacy, have agreed to sit for A SavvyInterview.

What was the catalyst that sparked your interest in financial literacy?

Frenel: It sounds terrible, but if my first jobFrenel out of University was not as a Financial Advisor, I probably would not care as much. I majored in Finance with a strong emphasis on capital markets and derivatives and graduated in 2009. Needless to say, entry-level analyst positions were far and few between, especially when people with 15+yrs of experience were interviewing for the same positions. Therefore, I decided to go the Financial Advisory route instead. While taking the courses I needed to get registered, I was shocked at how little a finance grad such as myself knew about personal finances! I was able to skip over all the hardcore stuff (economics, banking, capital markets, derivatives…etc) but everything related to personal finance was brand new to me.
It made me realize how much we don’t get taught at home or in school. That’s when I started caring about financial literacy and saw the need for more education. If it was not for that first job, I am sure I would have made many costly financial mistakes. Unfortunately not everybody was as lucky as me.

JamalJamal: Fortunately, my parents have always educated me on ways to manage and grow my money from an early age. My interest in money always sparked random financial conversations over the dinner table. As I grew older I realized that not everyone around me shared the same level of education about financial literacy. It became obvious to me that they were not fortunate enough to have someone at home who enjoyed talking about money or someone who understood it. For a topic that is so important to our everyday lives, it was astonishing to discover that many educational institutions do not offer or have mandatory financial literacy courses. This realization is what piqued my interest in financial literacy.

There are a number of mediums, a blog like this for example, to communicate the importance of financial literacy and teach applicable concepts. How did you settle on the idea of a game as your medium of choice?

You are absolutely right: for those who are motivated to learn, the information is only a Google search away. Blogs like yours and books like Rendezvous With Retirement do a great job at providing guidelines, sharing sound principles, and walking readers to fiscal fitness.

It’s because of all the information out there that we thought we should try something different. The people with the motivation to learn will be fine. It’s everybody else that we are worried about!

The topic itself is boring to most people; so we had to make it fun and engaging. We also wanted to “grab” people before they “go out in the world” and make their own (costly) financial mistakes: so we knew it had to be attractive to young people. We didn’t want it to be something that parents and/or teachers shove down users’ throat, so we had to make a product that users wanted to pick up by themselves.

We settled on the idea of a game. Not a board game, not an excel based simulation; a real experiential game. That decision was made very early and we spent the past year working everything else out. Jamal being a game developer and me being a wealth manager, we had the right complementary skills to bring the vision to fruition.

What is the significance of the name Freedom Quest?

For us, building wealth and securing our future is all about freedom. That’s why we pay off debts, save for the future, delay instant gratification, and make sound financial decisions; it’s all in an attempt to gain freedom. Freedom to spend time with family, retire early, travel the world, give generously, only work on what we are truly passionate about…etc . Wealth accumulation, passive income, retirement planning; it’s all a Quest for Freedom.

Tell us about the game. What is the objective? Is there a specific audience you are hoping to reach?

As mentioned above, the name is called Freedom Quest. It is a game designed to put players through real life financial challenges, as they compete with their friends and worldwide opponents to be the wealthiest and most popular player. It is an experiential game that replicates real world situations with real world variables, so as to expose players to a myriad of varied circumstances.

Freedom Quest

Our goal is to provide a fun and safe learning environment with the purpose of players walking away from the game with significantly higher levels of financial acumen, and the ability to make wiser decisions in their own lives.

As far as audience, the game is progressive and the learning is gradual. There is no prior experience necessary so a 16-year old can pick it up and have fun. At the same time, as the player progresses, the games becomes more complex and starts including mortgages, car loans, investments, businesses…etc, so a 45-year old can still enjoy it. As a result, it’s hard to restrict the game to any particular age group, but from research, feedback and experience, we expect the bulk of our users to be between 16 and 35.

We are also working on an educator’s version of the game. It will be aligned with the general curriculum, will come with lessons plans, will allow teachers to put students in a simulated environment whose variables they control, will automatically generate reports outlining student’s performance, both individually and compared to the rest of the class…etc. The goal for the EDU version is to make it so easy and so convenient for teachers that it becomes the default tool for teaching financial literacy in the classroom.

If you had to communicate one critical personal finance concept to someone, whether it be in a one on one conversation or through the game, what would it be?

Limiting personal finance to one concept is extremely hard as everything is so intertwined. But if there is only one thing we could teach our players, it would be that “actions have consequences and mistakes can be very costly; before making financial decisions, make sure you know what the consequences will be.”

And that’s the basic idea behind the game. Letting people make their mistakes and learn from them in a safe environment. Because personal finance itself…is not a game. Pun absolutely intended 😉

Blogger-in-Chief here at RetirementSavvy and author of Sin City Greed, Cream City Hustle and RENDEZVOUS WITH RETIREMENT: A Guide to Getting Fiscally Fit.

9 Comments

  1. I’m a big fan of seeing personal finance being taught in schools but be cautioned that this subject will need to be very sanitized. As we’ve seen recently, educators who try to push their political views on students have resulted in backlash from parents. If they (educators) try to push one type of investment over another, the same backlash will occur. My advice is for parents is to set the example of sound financial planning at home for the children to emulate with further “education” taking place in the classroom.

    • Some good points and the worry about educators pushing particular types of investments is often stated as a concern. However, I believe that concern may be overstated. After all, you could make the same critique of most of the subjects taught in school. If we worry too much about teachers giving too much of their personal – or political – opinions, we might have to revisit topics taught within the sciences and social studies areas among others.

      I believe educators could cover key concepts such as compound interest, types of investment instruments (e.g. stocks, bonds, cash, mutual funds), types of retirement plans, the differences between defined benefit and defined contribution plans, etc. without ruffling too many feathers. Valuable information could be exchanged, in a sanitized manner, as you note. I absolutely agree with the idea that financial education should start in the home…but what if the parents never received any detailed training/education? Where are they supposed to get their education? I believe those are two key questions we need to ask ourselves as we talk about/discuss/debate making personal finance a part of the standard and the curriculum within our schools.

      Thanks for adding to the conversation, Gage.

  2. Game looks pretty cool. I’m not a gaming person, but so many are these days. It would be nice if there was learning going on at the same time.

    • Agreed. It looks very cool; and the idea of learning about personal finance while gaming is great. Hopefully they will get the support they need for a great launch.

  3. Great interview, James! I love the idea of making financial literacy more attainable through a game. Very cool! I am hopeful that schools will eventually begin teaching basic personal finance, as well.

    • “I am hopeful that schools will eventually begin teaching basic personal finance, as well.” Absolutely! The interviews in general, and this one specifically, have been very well received. Thanks for stopping by.

  4. Great interview. It’s great to see someone setting up a game like this. We all know that financial literacy is NOT taught in school or the majority of homes. This is a great idea. Glad to see a game such as this being marketed!

    • Agreed, Karen. The fact that our schools are generally not teaching personal finance makes it more important that there are as many mediums as possible for people to learn how money works and how to effectively manage it.

  5. A Google+ readers asks…

    “Can a game capture the unique variables that real life investing has…?” 

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