Skip to main content

How YNAB Won Student Subscribers with Digital Verification

Many brands want to engage college students--one of the most coveted consumer communities. Exclusive offers are a great way to win the support of money-conscious students, but without a user-friendly verification system, students might lose interest and take their business elsewhere. And without verification at all, brands open themselves up to discount abuse.

This is the problem You Need A Budget (YNAB) was facing. The brand provides financial management software along with a host of resources that encourage financial education and literacy. YNAB’s primary goal is education, and it sees its platform as a means for helping users understand and implement the company’s core financial values—“give every dollar a job, embrace your true expenses, roll with the punches, and age your money.” The subscription brand launched a student discount program in 2012—but it soon found that manually verifying students was so time-consuming that users would opt out. 

YNAB needed a way to protect its exclusive student offer while maintaining a smooth, speedy user experience. That’s when it turned to digital verification—a choice that paid off in a huge way.

The Problem with Manual Verification for College Students

To qualify for YNAB’s original student discount in 2012, students had to verify their eligibility by emailing documents to YNAB’s support team. The manual process often involved back-and-forth exchanges that could last a week—not the experience college students expected or wanted. This led to one in five verified students never using their free trial. 

“When it comes to technology, college students are used to instant gratification, and asking them to engage in a lengthy email exchange to access our program prevented us from truly connecting with them,” said Kody Atkinson, Group Programs Manager and Program Owner at YNAB. “The issue came to a head when we decided to expand our program and realized that having to manually verify students was holding us back.”

Switching to Digital Verification

Kody started looking into digital verification solutions—and the more research he did, the more he realized that SheerID’s Verification Platform was the perfect fit. The platform offered instant, seamless verification that would ensure students could get their discount as quickly and easily as possible.

“It became very clear, very quickly, that SheerID was operating at a different level from their competitors,” Kody said.

The YNAB team relaunched their student program with SheerID, which instantly verified students and provided the company with zero-party data it could use to nurture students with personalized content on topics like student loans, housing, and how to get through college with little-to-no debt.

Promoting the Offer by Igniting Students’ Passion

YNAB promoted their revamped student program through a variety of channels, including blogs and social media. But while all the channels were helpful in growing YNAB’s student program, the channels that tapped into the company’s existing customer base—like YNAB’s referral and student ambassador programs—were particularly effective.

“Our users are extremely passionate. They see how strongly YNAB has impacted their financial lives and are excited to share that educational opportunity with others,” Kody said. “We offer students an extended free trial through our referral program and cash incentives to participate in our ambassador programs, but many of them ask for opportunities to learn from YNAB’s experts instead.”

Engaging More Students While Lowering Costs 

Relaunching YNAB's student program has been a great success. The company has saved 300 hours per year in support time, reducing support costs by $20,000 annually. It also slashed support inquiries by more than 80%, which cleared the way for even greater company-wide benefits. 

“SheerID definitely saved us money, but more importantly, it freed up our support team to work on more strategic initiatives, like improving processes to better serve our customers,” Kody said. “Employees can now focus on high-value tasks, and that has created exponential value for our business.” 

The improved user experience has also led to greater engagement with the platform. The number of verified students that never use the trial dropped from 16% to just 2%. 

This greater engagement has driven a 68% increase in student acquisition, which Kody believes will pay huge dividends down the road. “If students convert to a full-price subscription after they graduate at the rate YNAB’s regular free trial users do, our SheerID program could generate up to $900,000 in revenue,” he said.

Ready to Follow in YNAB’s Footsteps?

Book a demo and see firsthand how you can use SheerID to verify exclusive offers that win new customers and save you money.