HOW ABOUT ‘MONEY SOLUTIONS FOR THE UNBANKED’
MONI is a UK startup providing virtual bank accounts and prepaid cards to the unbanked and underbanked, including refugees. In November 2015, MONI signed a deal with the Finnish Immigration Service, MIGRI, to provideaccounts to refugees who were unable to open bank accounts in Finland, and were therefore receiving benefit payments in cash. Handling large amounts of cash presented security and increased administrative costs to the government, in addition to concerns that cash payments could not be easily traced to monitor anti-money launderinglaws. MONI provided a solution that enabled cheaper, faster, and safer fund transfers to smart accounts that were fully programmable to accommodate both user needs and MIGRI rules.
Today, MONI has more than 5,000 active users through the pilot program with MIGRI, representing more than 10% of the refugee population in Finland. As refugees have graduated from the asylum system into society, MONI has moved with them. MONI’s app has a built-in function that allows eligible, asylum-approved refugees to purchase their work permits (as required under Finnish law) with a tap of the phone. MONI has also successfully completed several salary payments to the MONI account as refugees have found employment.
“We have been able to verify the assumptions that by using prepaid cards we can build a safer and more cost-effective process. The feedback received from the reception centres [where refugees receive the MONI accounts] has been excellent and extending the experiment to all reception centres is now impatiently expected. We have also tested the salary payment process for the asylum seekers who have gotten jobs and found out that also this process can be done more effectively by means of a prepaid card than it is possible to do now,” says Jouko Salonen from MIGRI.
MONI, which has raised nearly $2 million USD from venture capitalists like Formation 8 and Digital Currency Group, is unique among startups in developing banking solutions for both millennials and more vulnerable unbanked populations such as refugees. MONI’s non-refugee banking platform includes a peer-to-peer loan function that enables users to instantly make interest free loans to friends and family. New features are in the works, including tracking power consumption and utility bill estimates, to sending and receiving freelancer invoices, to holding multiple wallets for different currencies and different bank accounts. In short, the vision for MONI’s consumer product is to build a marketplace of financial services on the MONI platform – a one stop shop for paying bills, making payments to friends and merchants, getting lines of credit, etc.
MONI also plans to expand its offerings for refugees in other geographies and to engage with the humanitarian sector in being the payment platform of choice for cash-based benefit payments. The humanitarian sector is moving away from providing in-kind donations such as food rations to direct cash or cash-like assistance, as cash is more efficient than in-kind aid with the World Food Program estimating that providing cash-aid for food is 25-30% more cost effective than providing in-kind food rations.According to the Overseas Development Institute, the humanitarian sector currently distributes $1.2-1.5 billion annually in cash-based aid, representing only 5-6% of the total $25 billion in aid spent annually, with a trend towards increasing the cash distributions. Thus, MONI expects increased demand in the future from humanitarian and government agencies for electronic cash delivery systems.
“Our mission at MONI is to serve the 2.5 billion people in the world who are still unbanked, in addition to the underbanked, which includes millennials. We are working hard to develop products for all our customers,” says CEO Antti Pennanen.