Nina Mohanty/Bloom Money
Meet Bloom Money: revolutionising fintech for immigrant communities
Bloom Money CEO Nina Mohanty sat down with AltFi to discuss beta launching a fintech for underserved immigrant communities and being the pacemaker for traditional institutions
In the last year, Bloom Money has launched in beta, been appointed a distributor of two different EMI licences, raised £1m and is readying to raise again.
In an interview with AltFi, co-founder and CEO Nina Mohanty summarised Bloom as a fintech on a mission to accelerate wealth in immigrant or diaspora communities.
Mohanty, who is a daughter of immigrant parents who moved to the US and who, herself, has moved to France, Austria and the UK, first created Bloom based on her own lived experience.
She faced the challenge of setting up an international bank account when she studied abroad at university in Paris, then in the UK, then again when she worked for Mastercard in Austria, where she gave up and spent months using a fintech app to change pounds into euros.
Now, with Bloom, she and her co-founder and chief technology officer Dan James have created an ethical rotating savings club, or a 2023 fintech version of a ‘Rotating Savings and Credit Association’ (ROSCA).
In simple terms, a ROSCA is a group savings club where members pay money in regularly and each month (or other set timeframe), one member of the group gets the payout.
This continues until every member of the circle has received their share.
Across communities and cultures, these ROSCAs take hundreds of different forms and names, from pardna in the Carribean to gameeya in Egypt, tanda in Latin America to committees in India and Pakistan.
A financial staple for often largely underserved communities, Mohanty is hoping that the mainstream players are paying attention and realising that beyond their ‘typical’ customer — or the headline-making debanked politicians — there are people looking for financial institutions in which they can finally place their trust and, crucially, their money.
“I hope they’re watching us”
Having cut her teeth at the biggest names in the business — think Klarna, Starling and Bud — Mohanty has seen first-hand how fintech companies run so that traditional finance companies can walk…a few years later.
“I've always referred to fintech as being that pacer for the rest of the industry, in that we're effectively proving out the commercial viability of these huge shifts and changes that we're seeing,” Mohanty told AltFi.
Whether that’s a move to contactless, encouraging digital wallets or enabling users to turn their cards on and off, she explained, these were all moves that first stemmed from fintechs.
Now traditional players have even moved into typically fintech-related spaces like buy now, pay later.
The way to get one of the traditional banks to make a move? “Get Monzo to do it first.”
“I think with Bloom, I'm happy to almost be their little lab experiment. I hope they're watching us and going, ‘Oh, let's see if there’s actually a market for these specific products’,” Mohanty continued.
“Because I’m certain that the metrics will bear out that there is a very underserved market that is worth serving here as well.”
That extends to other underserved areas like LGBTQIA+ communities and Islamic finance as well as the immigrant and diaspora communities that Bloom is focusing on, all of which are growing.
In 2022, annual net migration to the UK reached a record high of 606,000, up 24 per cent on the previous high of the year before (488,000), and more than double the level recorded in 2019.
Over three million visas were granted in the year ending March 2023, which was 90 per cent higher than the year before.
“This population shift is happening. It doesn't matter which political parties are in place, people will move,” Mohanty said.
“We have thousands of years of evidence that people will move when they need to, to survive. And so it doesn't matter how many walls you build, it doesn't matter how many boats you try to stop. And people will continue to move for economic opportunity as well.”
Trust, transparency, tradition
So how can you engage a vast community of people who have been traditionally underserved in financial services, and are often reluctant to engage with financial institutions because of they have historically been treated?
For Bloom, it comes down to three things: trust, transparency and tradition.
Trust, in particular, is a huge core tenet for the fintech.
Having raised £1m in a round led by Zinal Growth and with participation from January Ventures, Pact VC, Octopus and a number of angel investors, Bloom is now gearing up to fundraise again, which has put trust front of mind for Mohanty.
“Trust is something we talk about in financial services as all we want, but within immigrant communities, earning someone's trust is even harder because they have been treated so poorly by the government, by banks, by the health service,” she said.
“There are actual empirical pieces of evidence saying you have treated me poorly, so I'm never going to trust you.”
In speaking to its prospective audience, Mohanty and the rest of the Bloom team asked why individuals don’t use a bank card or why they prefer to take out cash.
They were repeatedly met with the answer: I don’t trust the bank.
Whether that’s because they don’t want a bank to see their transactions because they were once denied a loan or because they had a racist experience, the relationship between the individual and their bank is burned.
So from the outset trust has been at the centre of Bloom’s operations, and it is evident that they are literally walking the walk and going out into the community to make sure this is not just a promise to be different from traditional financial services.
“There is also this understanding that in Global South communities and in immigrant communities because you are the ‘other’ and you're not native-born British, you have to form these networks of trust within your own communities,” Mohanty added.
The second core value of transparency is a common one across fintechs, but Mohanty explained this is particularly important because these circles, in this case ‘Bloom circles’ are run within communities, where sometimes people don’t know when they’ll get their money or who’s in their circle.
Fairness and transparency across the board and making sure everyone knows what they’re putting in and what they’re getting out is key.
And tradition? Put simply, “tradition is kind of the foundation of Bloom. Modernising tradition”.
“Making far from home feel like home”
Currently live in beta in the UK, Mohanty says the reception to the new product has “been better than we could’ve imagined”.
They’ve seen interest from people in the US, France and even Eritrea, meaning her five-year plan to be on the European continent and growing the product suite with more culturally specific products might be coming down the pipeline a lot sooner than that.
Especially as Mohanty has learnt from the launch that Bloom’s target customer doesn’t want to wait.
“We've learnt that our target customer really does not behave the same way that the ‘tech savvy’ folks who were early adopters with Monzo or Revolut behave,” she said.
“For one, they're not interested in waitlists. They don't want to wait for a thing no matter how much hype there is around it. They want it now and don't see the point of promoting something until it's available for everyone. I guess it's a good thing we launched in both app stores!”
Dovetailing the launch with the introduction of the Consumer Duty Act, Mohanty said they’ve already learnt a lot about their compliance function from the beta launch, monitoring know your customer (KYC) on a case-by-case basis.
“This is particularly relevant given the big debanking conversation at the moment,” Mohanty said.
“Sure, some politically exposed people don't have access to accounts but so many more people with ‘funny names’ are often caught in the compliance web and never get to use a product because a company just isn't ready to expend resources to check a false positive.”
In a nutshell, Bloom is about “making far from home feel like home”, Mohanty explained, whatever that might mean.
Part of that should be feeling confident that you won’t be excluded for your name or your background or your culture.
Part of it is just knowing you’ll have access to funds when you’re looking for a caterer for your wedding or planning a trip to visit family.
And part of that is being able to have trust in where you put your money and making sure you can access your money with people you trust.