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Digital banking for underserved communities will boom in 2021

By Marcel Van Oost18 Feb 2021
6 min read

At Curve, we like to keep our finger on the pulse of fintech trends. We asked Marcel van Oost, a flag-bearer for the industry, which tectonic shifts will alter the landscape in 2021. 

The challenger and neobank landscape is as diverse as it is complex. 2020 has been a year of financial instability because of the corona pandemic and the fintech sector will have to adapt to the new needs of consumers in 2021. Here are the trends I believe will be the strongest in 2021: 

Digital banks for underserved demographics 

The one-size-fits-all traditional banking approach doesn’t work anymore. Mainstream banks and financial institutions hardly ever created products with diversity in mind. Underserved demographics like the LGBT+, Black American and Latinx communities are finally gaining the deserved financial products for their needs. 

That’s why digital banks focused on these groups have started launching. In 2021, we will see their rise. 


One of them is Daylight, the first and only digital banking platform in the US, specifically designed for and by the LGBT+ community. They launched in mid-December on an invite-only basis but plan to launch fully in 2021. 

What makes Daylight different is the offering of products and content designed specifically for the LGBT+ unique needs. According to the Family Equality Council study, more than 63% of LGBT+ millennials want to expand their family, but surrogacy, in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) and adoption can be extremely costly. 

With that in mind, Daylight already partnered with Visa to offer Daylight Visa® Prepaid Card. There’s also an app that offers tools and advice to help the LGBT+ community expand their financial skills and plan for their future. 

Daylight customers can now access a network of financial coaches specialising in LGBT+ money management and life events, such as expanding one's family and gender-affirming surgery. 

Black Americans 

In 2020, we saw the rise of the Black Lives Matter, which also highlighted the racial divide surrounding economic injustice. For example, there is a large difference in home ownership between white and Black Americans, a shortage of banking options available for Black and Latinx communities, plus Black entrepreneurs having more difficulty in securing loans to fund small businesses. These are some of the concerns over financial inequality.

On a more positive note, the US Congress and Senate Democrats passed a bill that makes discrimination in the banking industry illegal for the first time. 

In 2017, about 17% of Black Americans didn't have a bank account, compared to just 3% of White Americans, according to an FDIC study. That left a huge gap for digital banking startups serving these communities. 

Those disparities over economic injustice made Black financial entrepreneurs create financial services and banks for communities of colour. 

First Boulevard, an “unapologetically Black” digital neobank is launching early this year in the US and promises to eradicate the wealth gap for Black America through comprehensive financial education. 

To follow its promise, First Boulevard will offer a variety of features including round-ups to support historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), in-app chat, a marketplace, savings goals and expense tracking. 

In October 2020, neobank Greenwood made the headlines in the US as the first digital bank for Black and Latinx people and business owners. With Bounce TV founder Ryan Glover and his close friend, rapper-activist Michael “Killer Mike'' Render as co-founders, Greenwood has raised $3 million in seed funding from private investors, proving that Greenwood is ready to fill the gap left by traditional banking and the Black African community. 

And giving back to the community is the motto for First Boulevard and Greenwood, something with which traditional banking has a serious disconnect. 

For instance, for every customer sign-up Greenwood will provide five free meals to a family in need; and every month it will provide a $10,000 grant to a Black or Latinx small business owner that is a Greenwood customer. Another feature is customers will have the option to round up their spending transactions to the next dollar and donate the difference to Black American funds and organisations. 

This proves that digital banks are one (or many) steps ahead from traditional banking offering features that will focus on customers' needs. Also they are more aligned with the communities around them, and have an impact through giving something back to the community they are in. 


At 51% of the US’ population, women are astonishingly  an underserved demographic.  Digital banking is now poised to support them.

Last summer, the First Women’s Bank (FWB) received the federal green light to launch and became the first bank in the US founded by women for women. They aim to close the gender financial gap and bring together women entrepreneurs and business owners. 

Women-owned businesses are growing 2x faster than the national average, yet they receive just 16% of all conventional business loans, according to FWB. 

Alice App, a European early-stage fintech from Berlin, is also worth keeping an eye on in 2021. 

True aligned brands will win 

For this year and the coming years, I believe the best brands will win/survive. And the only way to build a brand that people stick to, and are willing to pay for, is when the customer truly believes in the story and what the company stands for. 

And in this case, and not just with digital banking - the first wave of neobanks showed it could be done - being fully digital and providing great UX and some other features traditional banks don’t have. 

Talking about a bank branding, Greenwood’s CTO Aparicio “Reese” Giddins said: 

"Banking is banking. The U.S. financial system is the U.S. financial system. But what we can do differently is to gravitate towards our community and show them how we plan to effectively raise an entire community with everything that we're doing differently across the board in terms of structure and providing that trust." 

Indeed, the bank (digital or not) that is truly providing people with the best tailored products is going to win this race. And that’s why I see potential for these underserved segments, now with the Black Lives Matter movement and consumers pushing for better gender equality, they will grow and achieve widespread adoption in the process. 

This is the time.





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