Make It Rain

A marketplace that helps teens make money and learn about financial literacy along the way.

Service Design, UX Research

Make It Rain

OverviewGetting StartedCurrent Service ModelsBuild User PersonaNeeds ValidationPivotFinal ConceptFuture DirectionsReflections[BACK TO TOP]


For many adolescents, establishing a sense of financial independence is an essential part of the emotional transition out of childhood. They need to have their own money before they can really learn to value it. They need to make their own spending decisions - and mistakes - while the stakes are low. How might we create financial services that help teens acquire resources so they can learn by doing?

In this project, we were asked by the PNC bank to create a service or product that can improve teen’s financial literacy while helping them retain young customers after they move to college in other states.


Make It Rain is an online marketplace that is bundled with PNC's virtual wallet. It provides teens with the opportunity to learn financial management by selling their crafts or used items. As teens successfully fulfill transactions, they earn the "rain drops" in their credit score buckets. The rain drops allow them to open a credit card with PNC that has a lower interest rate and better rewards in the future.

Tools: Interviews, Sketch, Adobe Creative Suite
Duration: Oct. 2017 - Dec. 2017
Teammates: Brandon Zepeda, Lu Yang, Ying Chen, Maayan Albert
My Role: Team lead, User research, Video Production

Getting Started

To better understand the stakeholders who are influencing teen's financial decisions, we interviewed three parents and two teens remotely to inquire about their past experiences of teaching or learning financial concepts. We also conducted secondary research and competitive analysis to explore the current product/service ecosystem. Through this research, we recognized that teens learn about financial concepts to realize their personal goals via various media, and parents face difficulty communicating financial literacy to their kids. We also identified opportunities for the PNC bank to gain more young customers.

To plan our interviews, I lead the team to first brainstorm things we already knew about teens and things we wanted to know. We then grouped things we wanted to learn into larger themes (e.g., learning experience, self-evaluation), and developed a script based on that.

Current Service Models

One thing that really intrigued us from our interviews was that gaining financial knowledge often gave teens a sense of "growing up". This finding made us wonder what are other "growing up moments" in teens' lives and how can financial knowledge be delivered at those moments to further enhance this sense of "growing up". In this way, instead of feeding teens up with financial concepts, the PNC bank can potentially offer something that will trigger their visceral feelings. Thus, we came up with a model that maps out teens' journey growing up to illustrate how the bank can insert its value at various time points. In the model, we also suggested that the bank should target at teens in high school as they have some control but low stakes to make mistakes and still have plenty of opportunities to learn.

I designed the service opportunity map to reflect how the bank might help teens gain financial knowledge at significant moments in their lives.

We also created a value flow model to demonstrate the channels through which teens currently learn about financial knowledge and the key influencers that have impacts on their spending habits. Through this model, we have revealed some interesting breakdowns between parents and teens.

Build User Personas

The current service models have shown that parents have huge influences over teens' spending habits. However, we have also noticed that different parents adopt different teaching philosophies - while some like to track down their children's spendings, others are more laid back. To demonstrate different types of potential users, we developed models showing a continuum of hands-on parenting (micromanager) to free-range parenting, as well as teens holding varied resources.

We found there is a big gap between high-controlling parents and the teens who are financially handled. The gap deepens when the teen starts to have his own agency that comes with a new job. This problem nudged us to narrow down our target users and to focus on parents who want to move from handling too much to give teens more agency, and on teens who want to grow more financially independent.

Needs Validation

After we had decided on our target user groups, now it was time for us to think divergently again. We had a brainstorming session where we used "How Might We" questions to come up with 30 high level ideas. To define our problem space, we asked:

We then narrowed these 30 high level ideas down to 3 core concepts by merging related ideas and voting individually. For each concept, we identified what were the needs that we assumed would be met by that concept and what were the specific features that would help us get the needs met. We then created storyboards and used the speed dating technique to interview 4 teenagers and 3 parents to validate if their needs would actually be fulfilled by our concepts. As an example, one of the high level concepts we dwelled on was socializing spending habits:

Step #1: Flesh out the details in a high level concept

Socializing Spending Habits

Concept description

We want to socialize the spending habits to motivate teens to develop better financial habits through gamification and peer competition.

Needs we want to validate

  • Teens don't understand financial concepts.
  • Teens care and want to be more confident about financial concepts.

Specific features

  • How can we devise an inclusive system so that teens with different budgets can all participate?
  • What, how, and when do teens share?
    - What: Rewards, daily goal, badges on card, Starbucks app gives challenges and rewards, banks give more points when teens make wise purchasing decision
    - How: physical artifact, social media
    - When: Buy things/take care of card. When awarded award, prompted to share it out.
Step #2: Create appropriate scenarios and draw storyboards
Step #3: Speed date teens and parents to validate their needs

We described our concept ideas and the possible future states with facilitation of the storyboards to our interviewees. We probed parents to see if they have ever had any needs to set up spending goals with their kids, and reward them if they achieve the goals. For teens, we asked them if they had a need to improve their spending habits, and whether they could imagine social recognition from peers as a reward for their good spending habits? We also discussed how they felt about setting up spending goals together with their parents.

Step #4: Synthesize the findings

We validated that teens had needs to improve their spending habits, and appreciated the idea of getting real time feedback on whether they are spending smart. However, they had mixed reactions towards being rewarded via social recognition and setting up goals with their parents. On the parents side, they wanted to facilitate teens to set up short-term and long-term goals instead of specific spending goals.


In the end, we have gained some interesting insights into both teens' and parents' needs. For teens, they need to:

On the parents' side, they need to:


With all these needs examined, how can we decide which needs to be prioritized first? The answer was: we didn't. One, some needs we identified above might be more important than others occasionally, but service or product that fulfill any of those needs would be appealing to our target customers. Also, we might find some solutions that could hit two birds with one stone. That was why we did another round of ideation to see if we could come up with some more interesting ideas. During this round of ideation, I asked my teammates to focus more on the quality rather than quantity of ideas. We took a break during Thanksgiving, ruminated on the ideas we had, and each brought back an idea that he or she felt really excited about. This was when we came up with the marketplace idea.

Initially, we were thinking about providing a teen-to-teen online service market, in which teens could offer different service to their neighborhood. However, after talking to some parents, we realized that there might be thorny trust issues around recruiting a stranger teen to perform service tasks. We had a heated debate on whether we should stay with the service marketplace model or move to a physical item marketplace model. In the end, we decided to go with the physical item marketplace idea (“Make It Rain”) as its pseudo credit point (“rain drops”)  component is a very unique selling point for PNC bank to retain its customers. The reason why it’s hard to implement the same credit point component in the service marketplace is that service is harder to measure in an objective way.

We created a table to compare the feasibility and the unique selling points of service vs. physical items marketplace.

Final Concept

To illustrate our final concept, we created some screens of the Make It Rain online marketplace. We also generated a service blueprint and a value flow model to portray how the interactions between different stakeholders would look like and why each stakeholder would benefit from this marketplace.

Buyer home screen design emphasizes on unique value of the marketplace.
Seller dashboard screen design focuses on showing teen's financial status and the raindrops that he or she has earned upon completion of transactions.
  • Opportunity to earn extra money
  • Opportunity to build credits for the future
  • Increased customer/client relationship skill
  • Their teens practices financial management so that they can learn to be responsible before getting a job
  • Have visibility into teen’s account
  • Their teens build credits with the PNC bank to better prepare for the future
PNC Bank
  • Establish an early relationship with teens
  • Increased retention during teen-to-adult transition
  • Data about teen's spending habits
Patrons (PNC Community Members)
  • Sense of contributions to community
  • Prices are lower since the marketplace doesn’t charge commission fee from teens
  • More streamlined transaction process. E.g., local bank branch can have lockers to store and pick up items
  • Teen buyers feel more comfortable negotiating

Future Directions

Due to the time constraints, unfortunately we could not conduct another round of speed dating to further validate our assumptions. Combining with the feedbacks we received from the final presentation, we identified the future research directions:


Empathy for teammates is as crucial as that for users

This was my first time to lead a team working on a large project. We were all from very different backgrounds (none of us were in the same program) and had divergent personalities and working styles. I tried to build rapport with my teammates not only when we are having meetings, but also outside the work. This level of personal connection has helped my team to stay open for communications and not afraid to raise questions or different opinions. It has also encouraged my teammates to give honest feedbacks on what I was doing well and what I could improve on. In retrospect, what I could have done better as a team lead was to understand what each teammate wanted to learn from this project at the beginning. That would help me decide how to assign tasks and motivate teammates better.

We all need some downtime to bring out the best idea

At one point, I felt we had a bag of okay ideas, but nothing was truly exciting. There were only two weeks left before our final presentation. We could either go for an existing idea tepidly, or spend some time rethinking about our research findings and coming up with something new and unique individually. I was really glad that we did the second option. It turned out when I mulled over on my own, either in bus or when cooking, I thought more thoroughly, deeply and widely. That was when the interesting ideas came out. This experience made me realize that even though group brainstorm sessions are good for generating ideas rapidly due to pressure, sometimes people just need some personal time to let their minds wander and let their ideas bake.