Black History Month: A Moment To Celebrate Black Voices Driving Inclusion Initiatives
"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter"
– Martin Luther King Jr.
A lack of inclusion and representation for Black communities exists at every level of the financial system in the US, UK and other developed markets. The FinTech phenomenon, which started with the agenda to address this as one of the core issues, seemed to have managed to move the needle, but we are still a long way from achieving the equitable access of financial services across different communities.
Establishing a sound financial ecosystem—for oneself as well as for the varied communities we flourish together in—results in ensuring this altruistic and essential goal of growth is sustained in the experience of humankind. When people from all walks of life bring diverse perspectives in the financial system, they contribute in fabricating the many delicate threads that form the blanket of economic prosperity. The empowerment that comes from the ability to assemble a business, access micro-financing strategies through informed decisions, and better handle the natural ambiguities of ‘financial shocks’ provide the grounding emotional charge of a better outlook of self, and the world in general.
This is why we recognize and acknowledge the many Black voices against the social disparities of bias, systemic racism, and widely unquestioned myths that bind us from reaching the freedom that comes with accepting racial equity and diversification towards the path of financial inclusion. We honor those who began the quest, and are continuing to broaden the social and financial landscape by shifting the labyrinth of such structural barriers.
The expedition to bring a positive economic impact for Black communities takes us back to the year 1888, with the inauguration of Capital Savings Bank – the first bank that was organized and operated by African Americans. Many fraternal institutions and Black businesses were able to channel their economic spirit in providing products primarily to the Black consumer market, thanks to the capital and credit aid by the bank, until it closed in 1902. However, 134 Black community focused banks were established between 1888 and 1934, with prominent names such as the Industrial Bank and Citizens Trust Bank taking the legacy forward.
OneUnited Bank, the largest Black-owned and FDIC-insured bank in the nation launched in 1968, created history for its bold commitment to not only delivering equitable access to lending and banking services, but also for operating as an activist bank helping Black people grow their wealth. Despite the many hurdles faced by the events of the Great Depression and the 2000’s Great Recession, a total of 48 Black-owned financial institutions are holding their ground in the financial sphere today.
Fast-forward to the present, and the modern world is witnessing accelerating innovation and adoption of a more digital lifestyle. The FinTech phenomenon which started in the backdrop of the financial crisis was premised on driving fairness, transparency and equitable access. One of the core objectives for FinTech startups was to enable conceptualization, creation, and distribution of suitable financial products for the underserved and unserved customer segments. Following in the footsteps of this ideology, many Black-owned FinTechs have come into play during the last decade.
ZEPZ, a UK-based money transfer unicorn founded in 2010, disrupted the payments sector by taking international money transfers online – enhancing digital connectivity into geographies that had previously been underserved. The ambition stems from the startup’s founder Ismail Ahmed’s challenging experience of sending money to his family in Ethiopia following the war in their homeland of Somalia, where each transaction involved both a lengthy journey and a large fee. Several other FinTechs subsequently made their debut, with respective aims of bridging the many gaps that were prevalent due to systematic biases in traditional infrastructures.
The early 2010s witnessed the launch of many Black-owned FinTechs in the US, with names such as music industry-focused FinTech Jammber (2013), mobile-first banking platform MoCaFi (2015), and financial-health-for-Black-men-promoter BREAUX Capital (2016). US-based Esusu, a Black-founded FinTech unicorn that leverages data solutions to improve property performance, is helping millions of Americans who lack credit-scores to form rational savings clubs and use their rent payments to build credit. 2017-launched Marshmallow is another FinTech company that has made its mark as Britain’s second Black-owned unicorn. Co-founded by identical twins Oliver and Alexander Kent-Braham and David Goaté, the InsurTech is redefining the game for car insurance by using clever algorithms to net a diverse set of customers, and provide them with competitive rates. The more recent startups that have entered the race to transforming the financial stability for Black communities include USA’s Greenwood (2020), an African American and Latinx-focused neobank that is focused on developing and promoting local communities as well as Black and Latinx entrepreneurs; NYC-based business banking hub for Black small business owners Guava (2020); and fully inclusive financial services company First Boulevard (2020) that has a plan in place to help Black America build generational wealth, control spending, and receive paychecks up to two days early.
Even though awareness and efforts go hand-in-hand in the creation of revolutionary change, it is only intention that ignites the power to take the first step toward it. Leveraging on the insights and learnings that people from different cultures have to offer through social-listening empathetic ears can further free the economic restraints that halt our equitable growth. The consideration and action of incorporating a more inclusive leadership and work culture only adds on to this journey of reaching fairness and financial wellness for all.