New Investment: Affordable Banking for Unbanked Americans

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Acumen has invested in Bridge, a fintech company paving the way to financial stability for Americans with its unique fee-free banking services.

THE CHALLENGE: EXPENSIVE AND EXCLUSIONARY BANKING

More than 63 million Americans do not have access to affordable banking services. Big traditional banks often exclude low-income Americans by requiring account balance minimums or credit score thresholds or with historically discriminatory practices against low-income customers or customers of color. These traditional banks and new digital-first banks also do not offer products and services that fit the needs of people with low incomes, like immediate paycheck cashing. Instead, their options are limited to high-fee, alternative financial services, such as prepaid debit cards or cashing their paychecks at a local grocery store or WalMart.

These fees add up. Altogether, it can cost Americans up to $100 per month just to spend, deposit and hold their money. Over a lifetime, a full-time worker can spend over $40,000 from relying on check cashing services alone.

THE INNOVATION: FREE MOBILE BANKING FOR THE UNBANKED

This fall, Bridge launched its free, nationwide mobile-banking services to remove the everyday barriers unbanked Americans face in accessing, spending and saving their money. Bridge customers receive an FDIC-insured checking account and debit card with no minimum balance and no fees for account maintenance, check deposits or overdraft. Customers will be able to withdraw cash fee-free from Bridge’s 70,000 in-network ATMs at convenient locations like 7-Eleven or Walgreens. Customers can access Bridge’s services free of charge and vendors pay the company a small interchange fee for each Bridge debit card transaction made at their store.

Over time, Bridge aims to help its customers save money spent on fees and access more fairly priced financial services that enable them to build long-term wealth.

WHY ACUMEN INVESTED: A PATHWAY TO PROSPERITY

In the Financial Inclusion sector, Acumen America invests in companies that are committed to changing the disparities within our financial systems. Bridge is a digital-first bank that has designed its products to support and empower their customers, many of whom earn low incomes.

Bridge is the first savings and depository product in Acumen America’s portfolio. “Generally speaking, the United States’ financial system causes one of two outcomes: on-ramps to greater prosperity or downward spirals to distress. The outcome you experience depends largely on your entry point: your income and credit score. Many low-income Americans have no other option than to use products that make it challenging to save money and build wealth. Banking is an essential building block to reaching greater prosperity and Bridge is filling a critical gap for these consumers. In doing so, Bridge is helping build a better system where financial services empower Americans, instead of setting them back,” says Stella Tran, Senior Associate at Acumen America.

“Bridge was founded on the belief that the barriers to upward economic mobility can be broken down with a mission-driven, market-based approach. This makes Acumen America the perfect partner for our business, as they not only share this belief, but have also put this belief into action through their impressive investment portfolio of changemakers. We are thrilled to be a part of the Acumen family and are excited to work together to make a sustained, positive impact on the communities we serve,” says Bridge Co-Founder and CEO Lalit Janak.

For more on Acumen’s guiding investment philosophy, see our eight Investment Principles.

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