Millions of underbanked people around the world are finally getting access to financial products such as savings accounts, investing and loans.
They have technology to thank.
“There’s this new type of excitement about putting your money to work for you,” Flori Marquez, the founder and senior vice president of BlockFi, a cryptocurrency trading platform, told CNBC’s Kate Rooney during Thursday’s Equity and Opportunity Forum. “And we’re seeing demographics who historically haven’t been active investors enter this space for the first time by purchasing assets like crypto.
Cryptocurrency bulls have long pointed to the accessibility of the asset class, and some even say that investing in the digital coins could help close the racial wealth gap in the U.S.
“For the first time in history we have a plan B option to the current financial system which has seen years of redlining, racial discrimination and other egregious acts by retail banks to the Black community,” Isaiah Jackson, co-host of ‘The Gentlemen of Crypto’ podcast and bitcoin expert, and author of ‘Bitcoin and Black America,’ said in a January interview with CNBC’s ‘Squawk Alley.’
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Marquez said cryptocurrency has been a boon to people affected by the war in Ukraine, as the coins can easily travel and be accessed anywhere.
“You can take your financial assets with you wherever you are,” she said, adding that BlockFi is also making U.S. financial products available to people overseas. “I think it makes a huge difference for Ukrainian clients today.”
Access to loans
Beyond investing in cryptocurrency, technology is helping people save and qualify for loans just by having a phone.
“There are 2.5 billion individuals around the world currently lacking access to traditional financial products,” said Shivani Siroya, the CEO and founder of Tala, a financial technology company with a focus on emerging markets.
That includes “the ability to save their money securely, to be able to earn yield on that, to be able to make simple payments that are essential to their daily lives, and to be able to grow their financial stability over time.”
Financial institutions are starting to use non-traditional data to give consumers credit ratings, which can help them qualify for loans even if they don’t have a formal relationship with a bank or have established credit.
“We are able to use alternative data to understand where they are in their lives and then be able to provide them with access to the liquidity they need to move towards opportunity,” Siroya said.
This is also a trend seen in the U.S. as some companies now allow consumers to use payments for housing, subscription services and more to improve their credit scores, boosting access to loans.
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Disclosure: NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Acorns.