UK Black-owned challenger Atmen to launch in March
Atmen, the first Black British-led banking start-up, is gearing up to launch its remittance service and prepaid debit card next month.
With no Black-owned high street or digital banks ever created in the UK, Atmen will be the first. Its plan, whilst it is starting off with remittances, is to expand into current accounts, lending, savings, and investments – including cryptocurrency.
The fintech, which is currently still bootstrapped, started out with a focus on serving minority Black consumers and Black-owned businesses in the UK and receiving countries.
But as its co-founders stress, the challenger’s services will be open to all kinds of consumers and businesses. Just as Atmen’s employee base will be equally inclusive.
Starting with remittances
By carving out its remittance corridors between the UK, Africa – starting with Nigeria, the Caribbean, and all 50 US states, Atmen hopes to fast-track the growth of its community.
“We’re relying on old-school marketing,” Marvyn Smith, Atmen’s co-founder, tells FinTech Futures. “Traditionally, users hear about remittances by word of mouth.”
Fellow co-founder, Dele Abibu, adds that sending money peer-to-peer (P2P) is how Atmen will grow from household to household. Once it launches in Nigeria, the start-up wants to accelerate its expansion into new African countries by summertime.
The start-up is currently talking to Paypoint. “We want people to be able to pay in cash, and do more than just send and receive,” says Abibu.
He adds that “a lot of other remittance services aren’t covering” UK-Africa remittance channels. “But our multicurrency wallet will.” As well as Atmen, Sendit.Money is also set to launch in the UK this year – currently it’s crowdfunding.
Current and business accounts next
Once Atmen gets its remittance service off the ground, it plans to expand into personal and business current accounts – including invoicing and payroll. Then cryptocurrency, and eventually lending.
Atmen’s blockchain-based Banking-as-a-Service (BaaS) provider, Optherium, supplies the fintech with the relevant licences to do this in the countries it’s set out to serve. Optherium has also extended its resources and support to help the start-up galvanise funding interest.
For early-stage fintechs, particularly those led by people of colour like Atmen, securing institutional backing can be gruelling.
“Investors are impressed by how far we’ve got being bootstrapped,” says Smith. But as he highlighted last year to FinTech Futures in the swings of Atmen’s undisclosed crowdfunding round: “They’re all singing the same story, which is: ‘come to us when you have a revenue line’. That means we need customers and a product.”
The ultimate vision for Atmen is to offer every banking function via web and app-based platforms, with a particular focus on the unbanked and minorities, Black consumers and Black-owned businesses.
And for minority-led and owned businesses, Atmen wants to advertise their services in its app via a minority business-focused cashback service. “Not everyone can rely on government stimulus,” says Smith.
With its pre-seed crowdfund done, the start-up is now looking to raise £5 million from institutional investors.
The need for a Black-led alternative
There is a clear need for a Black-led banking alternative. As Smith explains: “Looking back at history, loans have become more accessible. But with accessibility comes paying over the odds in interest and falling into the high-risk categories.”
A study by Warwick Business School found that Black entrepreneurs are charged higher interest rates.
Other reports argue that the higher rates simply reflect lower savings estimated by neutral credit decisions. But the algorithms which reach those credit decisions are proven to carry their own biases.
In 2017, a survey of complaints to the ombudsman found Black victims of fraud are more than twice as likely to be denied a refund by their bank as a white customer. That’s despite the fact ethnic minorities make up around just 10% of the population.
For the past 20 years, Smith and Abibu have worked across an array of sectors. In an interim capacity, they’ve implemented critical technology and software restructures.
“My face fitted the transformation scheme for a firm. But outside of that, I found myself handing responsibilities over,” says Smith.
Smith and Abibu want to create an institution built for Black and other ethnic minority communities from the ground up.
“Rather than putting something in place now,” says Smith, referring to pre-existing institutions, “we’re starting with diversity”. The co-founders believe the 1.9 million Black consumers in Britain will choose Atmen over an incumbent or another digital challenger for this reason.