An American start-up is launching a pilot project in Colombia it hopes will help low-income people save.

Juntos Finanzas started as a class project at Stanford University, building on a simple idea that came to current CEO Ben Knelman  — creating a tool to help people feel comfortable with their finances.

"I started working with nightshift janitors on the campus, who were all immigrants from Mexico. I would sit with them late at night and hear their stories about their financial experiences here in the U.S.," he told CBC’s Lang O’Leary Exchange.

Many told stories of being unable to save money, which led to the idea for Juntos Finanzas, which sends people text messages to help them develop the savings habit.

"We don’t provide financial services. We create tools that help people think and feel better about their money," Knelman said.

In a test among Latin American immigrants in the U.S.,  he found the simple reminders, which can be sent to any cellphone, were very effective. About 72 per cent of those who experienced success in a savings plan had never been able to save before.

Now the project rolls out among 30,000 Colombian users, Knelman said. It uses a text message service that can be received on any phone without a need for the internet.

It’s the banks who pay for the service – Latin American  banks face difficulties with thousands of new account holders who are unable to manage their money and end up with dormant accounts. 

"I think what it does is show the potential for industry to create products that really do affirm individuals as they achieve their financial aspirations," Knelman said.

While the small team associated with Juntos Finanzas is currently concentrating on emerging markets, Knelman hopes to bring the service to the U.S. to have an impact among new immigrants uncomfortable with the banking system.