By Jeff Sherman Staff Writer Published Apr 16, 2019 at 7:31 PM

There are many creative, fun ways to save money. Digitally, it’s even easier. But when pushed by a friend or your employer, saving your hard earned money should get even easier. That’s the goal behind Cookie Jar, a new Wisconsin-born startup growing in the fintech space.

As businesses search for more benefit options for their teams, I talked to Zach Blumenfeld, director of sales, about Cookie Jar, the banking industry, trends and more. Enjoy this latest installment of Milwaukee Talks.

OnMilwaukee: What’s Cookie Jar?

Zach Blumenfeld: Cookie Jar is an employer-sponsored financial wellness program that helps employees save money by rounding up everyday transactions.

Employers can offer Cookie Jar to their employees as a simple, sustainable way to save money. Cookie Jar rounds employees’ purchases up to the nearest dollar and puts the rounded-up amount into a dedicated Cookie Jar savings account.

Employers can also choose to match the round up, up to 100 percent. This is highly beneficial for employees saving money through Cookie Jar – and helps employers increase employee morale, retention and attract new talent with this financial wellness benefit.

Employees can withdraw their saved money by transferring it directly to their personal savings accounts or can continue to let their savings grow in their Cookie Jar account.

How do you stand out in an ever-growing financial tech space?

Cookie Jar created a unique financial tool to positively impact employee financial wellness while simultaneously growing employers’ ability to attract and retain great talent.

Sixty-one percent of U.S. employees said money is their top stressor. Similarly, 69 percent of Americans have less than $1,000 in savings. Cookie Jar helps put money into a dedicated savings account without a second thought so it’s there when people need it most – a flat tire, broken arm or even for a much-needed vacation.

With the help of Cookie Jar, employees can focus more of their energy on their work, an added win for their employers.

What’s your personal mantra for saving money?

I like to have multiple active savings streams at a time, so I utilize a variety of savings platforms each month. Through my employer, I dedicate funds to my 401(k) and my Cookie Jar Savings account. In addition to these automatic saving platforms, I have a set amount I invest in the stock market and a Vanguard Mutual Fund.

To protect my investments, I always like to have six months of expenses saved in an emergency fund. This way I never have to pull funds out of financial tools that are growing my savings and instead have a dedicated pool of money to help cover an unexpected expense.

Is the U.S. regulatory environment hindering the future growth of the fintech industry?

I see the U.S. regulatory environment as having the biggest impact on Blockchain. Blockchain will revolutionize not only the financial and insurance industries, but legal, accounting and many other industries as well. There are a lot of regulatory challenges we need to work through for that to happen. While I don’t see the Blockchain revolution occurring this year or the next, it’s going to happen in the near future.

In the Midwest, one of our biggest challenges isn’t regulatory-related, but that early stage startups need more access to capital. Organizations like gener8tor and StartingBlock are helping to open doors for early stage startups. Wisconsin insurance companies are also helping to accelerate growth in the startup ecosystem by creating investment arms and funding innovation centers, but additional support and funding is still needed.

Finally, we need more successful startup exits. For those unfamiliar with the term, it’s when a startup is either fully-funding themselves due to business growth or when they’re bought by another, larger company. Startups that continue to raise money round after round can help accelerate growth, and is a statistic that is very attractive to many in the startup community, but successful exits will help replenish capital in the local ecosystem, growing our economy. I’m hopeful we can see some local startups exit towards the end of 2019 or 2020.

What do you believe fintech firms offer that have the greatest potential to have material influence or true disruptive industry impact?

Human digital interfaces, artificial intelligence and machine learning, and Blockchain.

Favorite business site or newsfeed?

Besides OnMilwaukee? I like anything related to startups and innovation. The StartingBlock Madison newsletter is a good one-stop shop for everything startup related.

Best business book that you’ve ever read?

These are a few of my favorites: "Subscribed" by Tien Tzuo, "Predictably Irrational" by Dan Ariely and "Lean Startup" by Eric Ries.

Finally, define success.

Nearly half of Americans don’t have $400 in savings in case of an emergency. I define success for Cookie Jar as making a dent in that statistic. If we can help more people in America start and grow their savings, that is success in our mind.

On a more personal level, success to me is measured by your network, not your net worth. At the end of the day, it’s the relationships you make that will matter most in life.

Jeff Sherman Staff Writer

A life-long and passionate community leader and Milwaukeean, Jeff Sherman is a co-founder of OnMilwaukee.

He grew up in Wauwatosa and graduated from Marquette University, as a Warrior. He holds an MBA from Cardinal Stritch University, and is the founding president of Young Professionals of Milwaukee (YPM)/Fuel Milwaukee.

Early in his career, Sherman was one of youngest members of the Greater Milwaukee Committee, and currently is involved in numerous civic and community groups - including board positions at The Wisconsin Center District, Wisconsin Club and Marcus Center for the Performing Arts.  He's honored to have been named to The Business Journal's "30 under 30" and Milwaukee Magazine's "35 under 35" lists.  

He owns a condo in Downtown and lives in greater Milwaukee with his wife Stephanie, his son, Jake, and daughter Pierce. He's a political, music, sports and news junkie and thinks, for what it's worth, that all new movies should be released in theaters, on demand, online and on DVD simultaneously.

He also thinks you should read OnMilwaukee each and every day.