It’s no secret that the world of banking has been historically walled off to Black and brown people. But Greenwood, a mobile banking platform that launched late in 2020, seeks to change that. Cofounded by former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young, rapper-activist Michael “Killer Mike” Render, and Bounce TV founder Ryan Glover, Greenwood is, according to Fortune’s Lucinda Shen, “not your average fintech at all.”
Serving historically underserved Black communities, Greenwood’s mission goes far beyond banking. “Our focus is to convert income into generational wealth,” Chidiebere Kalu, Greenwood’s director of product management, said at the Fortune Brainstorm Tech conference in Half Moon Bay, Calif., this week. The company name honors Tulsa’s Greenwood District, also known as Black Wall Street, where Black entrepreneurs thrived in the early 1900s. The district was destroyed in 1921 by white residents during the Tulsa Race Massacre, but the Black community rebuilt and, by 1942, there were 242 Black-owned and operated businesses in the area.
Greenwood, the mobile banking platform, is not a bank itself; instead, it features banking services provided by Coastal Community Bank and will eventually provide financial management services. It reinvests in Black and Latinx communities through monthly grants and launched Greenwood Studio, which specializes in financial literacy and investment content.
“A phone in the hand of Black children on my side of Atlanta [makes it easy to open an] account, and instead of those children having to go to the liquor store to cash a check, those kids will be able to do that in their phone,” said Render.
Greenwood is building its platform with help from outside investors and existing financial institutions, which means it must partner with some companies that previously turned their backs on Black communities.
Shen asked Kalu and Render how it feels to “be backed by these big banks that have underserved those populations in the past?”
“I would say whatever you did in the past, it happened,” said Kalu. “But the fact that you took the step today is what matters most.”
Greenwood’s priority is helping bolster the U.S.’s financially marginalized communities, Kalu said. “So now that [banks are] taking that step to understand that ‘Hey, like, something needs to be done here,’ I’m okay with that.”
Render said he’s confident banks now understand the strength of the “Black dollar,” even if they dismissed it in the past. “When the west side of Atlanta was stronger economically…J.C. Penney was stronger; Sears, Roebuck was stronger. Amazon is delivering to doors daily there. So I believe that these banks, like any other business in a capitalistic society, know that if this community is banked fairly by us, and if we have people now guiding us for how to get through these communities, that we’re going to be able to rebuild our relationship.”
Kalu said that 40% of the Black and brown community sits squarely in the middle class, meaning there’s a big opportunity for wealth generation.
“They’re like, ‘How can I build wealth? How can I grow it?’” said Kalu. “We’re giving them the tools that they need in order to invest those funds, in order to grow that wealth over time. And not to sit on that cash.”
Clarification, Dec. 1, 2021: This article has been updated to more accurately describe the work of Greenwood Studio.
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