6 things we learned from a 14-year old banker

Recently, Moka hosted a very special visitor at our Montreal headquarters: José Adolfo Quisocala. José is the founder of the Bartselana Student Bank, a bank in Arequipa, Peru that teaches children to save and allows them to earn money by collecting and recycling plastic and paper waste.

What’s most impressive about the founder of this innovative financial institution, beyond the social mission behind his creation? 

José started the bank when he was just 7 years old.

He is now 14 years old. 7 years ago, he noticed that some of his classmates were missing lunch at school, and that there were other kids in his community who weren’t financially able to go to school at all. So he created a solution to help them learn to save money, gain financial independence and benefit the planet, all at once.

Since opening in 2012, the bank now has over 2,000 clients and offers loans, microinsurance and other financial services. José’s work has earned him numerous national and international awards, such as Unicef’s Child and Youth Finance International Award in 2014 and the Children’s Climate Prize in 2018.

He was most recently in Montréal for the Desjardins Cooperathon, and stopped by the Moka office for an afternoon of inspiration.

Here’s what we learned.

1. The best ideas are solutions to real problems

José didn’t start out with the idea to open a bank. Instead, he simply began by writing down the problems he saw around him and brainstorming ways to solve them. When he realized how many of the problems stemmed from financial issues, he knew what he had to do. If the problem was that his peers and their families did not have enough money to achieve their financial goals, then the solution had to give them access to an easy way to earn and save money. 

This entrepreneurial problem-solving drive also led him to the groundbreaking recycling component of his bank. He thought about how kids were struggling to earn money and the waste issues in Peru (18,000 tonnes of solid waste are created each day, with at least half ending up in streets, beaches and in rivers), and found a solution that would address them both. Genius.

2. You can accomplish anything with hard work, persistence and a never give up attitude.

As you can imagine, people were a little skeptical about a 7 year old trying to open a bank, and throughout his journey, José faced consistent rejection as he sought support for his project. He told us how he had dreamed of giving his clients their own bank cards, but that all his letters to VISA and Mastercard were simply ignored.

So you can imagine our surprise when he pulled out the bank card he’d recently designed at the VISA office in Florida! Thanks to his persistence and refusal to take no for answer, VISA had finally heard about all the good José was doing, and was more than happy to help him realize his dream.

It was hard, plastic evidence that great things can happen if you just keep working towards your goals.

3. Every small action has the potential to make a big impact

The little things we do each day may not seem like much, but they can sometimes have a big impact on the people around us. José noticed that when his customers began recycling, they were able to change the habits of entire families and communities simply through leading by example. 

And if a 14-year old boy from a low-income family in Peru can create financial opportunity for thousands of families, then it’s clear that all of us have the power to make a difference. 

4. (Financial) knowledge is power

When he opened his bank, José knew it wasn’t just about saving money. It was about teaching kids good money habits and financial literacy so they’d be able to better manage their money and make better choices about the financial services and products they used.

And it was about empowerment. Giving kids control over their own money and a way to actively earn more allowed them to pursue dreams that their families were perhaps unable to support. 

5. Keep your eye on the prize

Just like Moka users, every Bartselana client starts out by setting a savings goal.

According to Jose, the best way to get kids to save and earn money is by encouraging them to work towards something tangible—a goal to keep in mind every time they are tempted to buy another toy or piece of candy.

In fact, he feels so strongly about the power of goal setting that the design on his new client bank card features a bicycle and a pair of soccer shoes, in honour of two of the earliest Bartselana client goals. 

6. Passion is everything

The reason for José’s success became immediately apparent as soon as he started speaking—he is incredibly passionate about everything he does to help his community and planet. 

From the way he spoke about his clients to his genuine excitement when listening to Phil, our CEO, explain ETFs and micro-investing, all signs pointed to the fact that helping people achieve their financial goals is his true calling.

And for that, he’ll always be a friend of Moka’s.

Thanks for the visit, José. It was a pleasure to meet you and we’re excited to see what comes next in your mission to make saving and investing accessible to all!