The Challenge

Design a new venture to help American Family Insurance connect with its customers and improve their condition of living


Moonrise, a digital platform that matches workers who need extra money with employers who need to fill extra shifts

More than half of Americans don’t have the cash to cover a $400 emergency expense like a car repair or trip to the hospital. Taking that reality to heart, American Family Insurance, a Fortune 500 company that offers auto, home, business, and life insurance, was seeking a way to make an impact by helping people earn and protect—not just insure—the things they value.

American Family approached IDEO with an ambitious goal: to innovate in a way that would help working families—many of them existing American Family customers—who need a financial cushion in case of the unexpected. This new mission fell in line with American Family’s overall orientation toward increased social responsibility, including committing to a liveable wage for all employees, helping with student loans, and providing college scholarships and tuition reimbursement for employees’ children.

In early discussions, American Family thought people might need budgeting tools, but from the very first research interview, a different urgent need emerged: people needed a way to shore up their savings enough to protect against unforeseen needs. This same story came from numerous places. In Tennessee, the IDEO design team sat in the kitchen of a working single mom of four, who explained how her lifestyle was built around her extremely constrained budget. She couldn’t afford childcare, so she’d organized her home to allow her 11-year-old to watch the younger kids: partitioned snacks, timers on the TV, chore charts on the fridge. She managed her budget meticulously, it was clear, and she didn’t need new financial tools. What she really needed, she said, was extra income cushions so a surprise expense like a doctor’s visit or stretch investment like a kid’s basketball uniform wouldn't derail her plans. Like many of the people the team visited across the country, she didn't want to take on debt; she wanted extra work and the dignity and peace of mind that comes with it.

During a live prototype of the Moonrise platform, a Moonriser in Wisconsin works a shift with a partnering employer.

Could we, the team wondered, offer people who already have jobs the extra hours and income they need in a way that reduces, rather than exacerbates, the stress they already face? Would employers get on board?

The short answer was yes. Today’s businesses depend on on-demand work, including seasonal warehouse and retail shifts. Typically, companies look to temp agencies whose model is built on staffing with the goal of permanent placement. Moonrise enables companies to tap into a workforce that's already employed, allowing them the benefits of passive recruiting (reliability, consistency), but for short term work.

Knowing innovation was the path to growth, American Family took a chance by embracing a radically new brief: Create a service to help families living on the edge bridge the gap between the size of their paychecks and the size of their dreams. The result was a new business venture called Moonrise.

When customers told us that having an easy way to earn extra money could improve their lives, we were compelled to pursue a solution. Moonrise is a business with a human-centered mission. We’re proud it’s part of our American Family.

Jack Salzwedel, Chairman & CEO, American Family Insurance

The Moonrise platform lets workers sign up for shifts with partner organizations through a simple text message interface, and get paid as soon as their shifts are done. Employers who sign up to partner with Moonrise can list open shifts on the platform.

“Moonrisers” are W-2 employees of Moonrise, not contractors, so they don’t have to pay self-employment taxes. They also get personalized business and comment cards to take to job sites, making their interactions with employers feel more professional. In this way, Moonrise helps workers not only build a buffer against unexpected bills, but also explore new positions and fields—and perhaps even land new full-time work with Moonrise partners.

After working a shift, the Moonriser gets paid right away with money sent to a debit card. Moonrise can also help workers track progress toward their financial goals.

To test the program in real time, IDEO and American Family assembled 11 Moonrisers, six employers, and a team of designers and programmers to work out kinks in the platform. During a one-week live pilot in Wisconsin, Moonrisers finished a combined 28 work shifts, earning an average of $121 each, while IDEO designers worked behind the scenes to keep the process running smoothly.

Based on the success of the pilot, American Family created a new startup company called Moonrise, which became a wholly owned subsidiary of American Family. Moonrise launched to the public in the Chicago area in 2018, with plans for an eventual nationwide rollout. Moonrise signed Enterprise Rent-A-Car as its first employer and actively matches workers in Chicago with shifts, while continuing to build more corporate partnerships.

Since launching in 2018, over 7,000 people have applied to become Moonrisers, more than 7,000 shifts have been fulfilled, and over $500,000 has been put into the pockets of hardworking Moonrisers. Additionally, Moonrise will be expanding into 3 additional states in 2019.

IDEO and American Family Insurance interviewed customers of The General—a division of American Family—about how they budget to make ends meet. In this conversation, customer Chandra told designers how $62 could be the difference between breaking down and breaking even for her family.

With children, there’s always unexpected expenses—diapers, clothes, gas money, bus fare...With Moonrise, I’ve been able to save to get a car! It’s exciting, and I’m looking forward to hitting more goals.

Jazmyn, Moonriser

It’s not always easy for established companies to innovate, especially outside their core business. But innovation is a high priority for American Family. Creating an employee -centered startup like Moonrise solves an urgent problem and distinguishes them from their competition. Together, American Family and IDEO identified a pressing human need and built a program from the ground up to meet it.

Financial Services