Matamata company look to provide digital banking solution for seniors


Launched at the beginning of the year, Kitcal, a simple and secure tablet specifically designed for seniors already has its founders’ eyes set on new developments.

From Matamata, co-founders Julie Caldwell and Julie Blackwell say the current version, featuring five buttons that provide connectivity to family and friends, was the most important place to start.

“We started there because that is where the greatest need is for those older people who are lonely and cut off from their families because their families are using touch screen devices to connect to each other

“But the senior, when they’re left out of that loop miss out on all of that day-to-day stuff.

“To bring them back into the loop with the rest of the family was the first need,” Caldwell says.

Featuring a range of emojis rather than a keyboard, and including the ability for video calls, the pair have felt validated by the excellent market response to Kitcal.

“We’ve actually had a better uptake than we thought.

“People who are using it are loving it.

“We’ve had really lovely feedback from families and from seniors themselves,” Blackwell says.

Not prepared to rest on their laurels, the pair have plans to add more features to Kitcal with ‘keeping it simple’ at the heart of any new developments.

“We’ve started with the simplest form of design in the useability and we’ve always had a pathway for further design and development,” Blackwell says.

In light of banks closing their local branches around the country, the pair are looking to develop a banking platform that seniors will feel comfortable and secure using.

“This past year has forced our hand in different directions and we would love to be part of a digital banking solution for seniors.

“What is out there is not a good option for many people.

“If you’re hard of hearing phone banking is not a viable option,” Blackwell says.

Whilst online banking is available via the various banking apps, Caldwell says seniors still need a device they can easily operate.

“If you haven’t got a device to put it on, the most wonderful app in the world is no good if you can’t work your iPad or the phone that the app is on,” Caldwell says. With scams and malware putting people’s finances at risk, the two women are ever-mindful of senior’s vulnerabilities to being duped.

With that in mind, the pair say a banking platform will have to be designed to provide a safe and secure way for seniors to maintain their financial independence.

“One of the very real dangers of them using a tablet or phone is that it is open to the Internet and they’re not really au fait with what scam emails look like.

“Why should they be and how could they be.

“There so much information out there about being careful of scams and malware the fear of it is equal to the real danger of it,” Blackwell says.

Colour schemes and font size have the potential to impact on a senior’s ability to navigate the app on their digital device.

“Typically, designers and all the people who deal in that space are young and they just don’t appreciate the difficulty older people have,” she says.

But it’s not all serious problems the pair are looking to solve and a games app is something they would love to explore.

“Games are absolutely on our list. We had to start with what the most desperate need was and that was to be in touch.

“You can’t design something for 10 years before you actually put it out there fully formed.

“So, all of those things are coming,” Caldwell says.

Having had good success in New Zealand, the pair are eying up overseas’ markets and have begun trialling Kitcal overseas.

“There are other countries out there with the same family dynamics as New Zealand, with older people wanting to live on their own.

“We are in the process of a capital raise so we have investors coming in to get the momentum going with that,” Caldwell says.

“We really are a new product in this market and the market is hugely untapped.

“With the capital raise we’ll really be able to get a few more things done and increase our market potential further,” Blackwell says.

Caldwell and Blackwell applaud research on how the digital divide has been affecting seniors but they are exasperated at the slow reaction from corporates whose customers are affected.

“We hope our Kitcal tablets will help create a more digitally inclusive Aotearoa.

“Kitcal’s mission is to reconnect seniors with their families and other support structures, so that they are less lonely and more confident about their remaining years,” Caldwell says.

“It’s vital that our seniors keep in touch with their whānau and friends in this pandemic – especially during a lockdown.

“Closing the digital divide is an important step towards reducing the physical and mental toll of social isolation and loneliness.”

The two women self-funded the tablet’s development and import tablets to their own specifications from a factory in China, while staying as local as possible on other fronts. They are using a Matamata software developer, and the stands and cases are made in Hamilton.

The Kitcal comes ready to use out of the box, with a Sim card meaning there is no need to worry about Wifi connections, and using an IoT platform built for them by Vodafone. The tablet costs $690, the plan has two prices according to usage, and the app is free to the user and families can also download the free app to stay in touch, and can update the calendar, and provide prompts and alerts.


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