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What is a Neobank and How Are They Changing Financial Accessibility?

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  • What is a Neobank and How Are They Changing Financial Accessibility?
PUBLISHED BY Vivian Sun / May 28, 2021

It’s been a couple of years since the world was first introduced to neobanks. Neo means ‘new’, and so a simple neobank definition essentially translates to ‘new bank’. It’s no secret that these ‘new banks’ have been causing a lot of buzz lately in the fintech industry. But exactly what is a neobank and what do they mean for the future of banking? 

What is a neobank?

Neobanks, believe it or not, are not necessarily banks! A neobank is a financial service product that runs 100% digitally. It uses apps and platforms to serve its customers (instead of your typical brick-and-mortar branches). Neobanking services appeal to customers who are tech-savvy and don’t mind managing their money through their phones and tablets. 

How do neobanks compare to incumbent banks?

Of course, neobanks aren’t for everyone. Many people may very well prefer the experience of walking into a physical building. Likewise, the services of these big banks generally target an entirely different demographic than those of emerging neobanks. The banking experience at big banks is catered to middle- and upper-class salaried workers. They have attractive credit scores and are able to deposit consistent amounts of money into their accounts. As such, the banking products they use are carefully aligned with their unique problems and lifestyles. 

The unfortunate reality is that it isn’t a rare sight for marginalized individuals and independent workers to be denied a bank account due to their lifestyle or the nature of their work. Those who can use bank products often seek alternative financial services because these relationships do not fully meet their needs.

The main caveat with incumbent banks

Why is this the case? What’s so hard about expanding services to target underbanked and non-salaried or varying income workers? For one, a main caveat with the system is that marginalized individuals are also economically marginalized. They are denied access to the same rights, resources, and opportunities that would allow them to “qualify” for big bank services. 

With independent workers, there’s a similar misalignment, but it essentially comes down to profitability. Incumbents need to cover the cost of their physical infrastructure. This essentially means they need to make enough money over a benchmark to actually be making money at the end of the day. They want to attract customers who can contribute consistent cash flows because, similarly, this provides the bank with financial security.

How are neobanks supporting independent and marginalized workers?

Okay, so if that’s the case with incumbent banks, how are neobanks changing this landscape? How do neobanks make money doing so? 

Because the digital nature of a neobanking startup allows it to forgo the cost of physical branches, equipment like ATMs, and other machines, it’s able to save hugely on costs. And with much more financial leeway, it’s able to expand its services to the underbanked. 

Yes, neobanks are changing the banking landscape through accessibility! With these emerging financial services for niche demographics, individuals from unique backgrounds and employment situations can find a banking solution that works for them.

If you are an underbanked worker looking for a nifty little neobank comparison, here’s a quick list of neobanks in the US that are rocking financial inclusion.

Daylight

Daylight prides itself on providing better banking experiences for the LGBTQ+ community. Founded by a team of queer individuals, the neobank builds around the unique needs of the community: different goals, different families, and different lifestyles. Daylight offers a prepaid Visa card that allows transgender and non-binary people to display their preferred name, as well as resources to which clients can make direct donations to LGBTQ+ organizations. 

First Boulevard

First Boulevard is an “unapologetically Black” neobank focused on eliminating the wealth gap for African American people. Formerly named Tenth, First Boulevard places an emphasis on education, providing financial literacy resources and wealth management tools catered to the Black community. The company also runs fundraising features to support students at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) across the country. First Boulevard is currently gearing up for its upcoming launch.

Greenwood

Greenwood doubles down by offering a fintech banking platform that targets both Black and Latinx people. It offers a variety of services, from savings and spending accounts to a global ATM network. The company also runs great community initiatives, like non-profit fundraising and building grants for Black and Latinx small businesses. 

Moves

Moves (that’s us!) is all about supporting independent workers. With platforms like Uber, Doordash, and Postmates seeing exponential growth in the past couple of years, we’re addressing the urgent need for financial services in the gig economy. Because independent work is different and unpredictable, we take into account the unique lifestyles of rideshare drivers and couriers alike to offer services that don’t bat an eyelash at credit scores. We currently offer two products — a business cash advance and a new spending account — to help gig workers improve their financial health and celebrate their work!

Of course, it’s important to remember that no platform is a be-all-end-all financial solution — behaviors have to be nudged and living habits should be sustainable in order to accelerate your journey to financial health. Budgeting and spending can vary between individuals. Independent contractors with volatile income may want to focus on building these habits to help enhance their financial health! Check out some ways to manage unstable income and save money as an independent worker to help you manage your money while living your best life. 

Neobanks are changing the future of banking. It’s a huge step in increasing accessibility in the financial landscape of America. So the next time someone wonders, “What is a neobank?” you’ll know exactly how to answer. You earn money differently, and neobanks are here to support you in your unique lifestyles and the work you do best, unapologetically.

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