Global Matters

Closing the racial wealth gap with access to digital banking, crypto

First Boulevard founders leverage digital banking, crypto APIs in their mission to build Black wealth and shrink the racial wealth gap

Two men sit at a table in front of a mural that says freedom
First Boulevard CEO and Founder, Donald Hawkins (left), discusses the importance of digital banking platforms with Chris Goode, CEO of Ruby Jeans Juicery

Transfers of generational wealth are arguably the single greatest contributing factor to the racial wealth gap1 — a gap that today leaves the median Black American family with $0.13 for every dollar the median white American family owns.2 Accounting for homeownership and other sources of equity, the true wealth gap between Black and white America has not improved for more than 70 years.3 In reality, this means Black communities are more vulnerable to economic shocks, whether from family-level events like the loss of employment or society-wide crises like the COVID-19 pandemic. In a real, tangible way, wealth matters.

Asya Bradley, a serial entrepreneur in the fintech space, saw this and decided to take action in a powerful way: by working to build generational wealth for the Black community through banking.

Mid-pandemic, Bradley connected with friend and peer Donald Hawkins, also very much aware of the pain points Black Americans have faced in terms of gaining access to traditional financial services. A few months later, First Boulevard, a digital bank designed for underserved communities, was born.

“Donald and I have both been pretty outspoken in terms of the challenges that the melanated community faces in terms of access to financial services,” said Bradley. “I see First Boulevard as a movement, not just a neobank.”

The Black community in the U.S. represents $1.4 trillion in consumer spending, yet little of that money funnels back into the Black community.4 In this video, Bradley and Hawkins connect with small business owners in their communities to better understand the need for access to financial services in Black America.


Banking designed with bias in mind

“For Black America, 85 percent of us bank exclusively from our mobile phone,” said Hawkins, now Founder and CEO of First Boulevard, referencing a Pew Research Center Study on the Digital Divide. He added that digital banking has been a safe zone — one where Black Americans are shielded from the biases they have encountered from in-person banking. “There are so many different entities that focus on underserved communities, but they typically don't look like the communities that they serve,” said Hawkins. “I would say our secret sauce is representation.” The leadership team at First Boulevard is two-thirds female, two-thirds Black and 100 percent BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color).

Bradley, now Founder and COO of First Boulevard, adds that there are biases in terms of who's building the product too. “When you are building a product with the community that it's going to serve, you can be sure that representation matters,” added Bradley.

A man and a woman talk in front of a window
Asya Bradley (right), COO and Founder of First Boulevard, discusses advice for the next generation of entrepreneurs with Keba Konte, Founder and CEO of Red Bay Coffee

Building Black wealth through access, education

First Boulevard has also partnered with Visa and will be first to pilot Visa’s new suite of crypto APIs, which will enable their customers to purchase and trade digital assets held by Anchorage Digital, a federally chartered digital asset bank.

“Visa was really thoughtful about partnering with us because we care about the education side of it,” said Hawkins. “We put together a robust financial education program to show our members exactly what cryptocurrency is, its volatility, different types of cryptocurrency, what the heck is blockchain, so we can help them make actionable decisions that are good for them.”

More than teach consumers about crypto, First Boulevard will incorporate foundational financial education into their platform with bite-sized “playlists” — podcast-like mini courses that present key concepts about money and investing through a jargon-free approach anyone can understand.

“People want a conversation,” said Hawkins. “They want regular people to be there, to show them that ‘Hey, I understand that you've been in the debt trap. I've been in it too. And now I'm leading a company to help you and a lot of other people get out of it and hopefully help younger generations not even get into it at all.’”

First Boulevard will also launch a First Boulevard Visa Debit card, which offers digital-first features like early access to wages with Early Direct Deposit5, a Cash Back for Buying Black program, and financial education and budgeting tools to improve spending habits.

Looking ahead, Bradley and Hawkins are working with organizations to help their customers access funds for career development and are even considering local lounges in key cities like Atlanta, Charlotte, and Oakland.

“I think it's a matter of moving the money out of just this general economy that really hasn't served Black America,” said Bradley, “into a place where we're not just trying to reclaim that $1.4 trillion of economic impact from the Black community, but add the $1.5 trillion from the Latinx community, add the $1 trillion in the Asian community and combine it all to the point where we all are finally understanding that, "Hey, something really bad happened in America and it's about time that we all kind of rolled up our sleeves and combat the issue.”

Find the tools you need to get up and running quickly through Visa’s Fintech Fast Track.

Adapted from an article originally published on March 19, 2021




5 The First Boulevard Deposit Account is established by Central Bank of Kansas City, Member FDIC. The First Boulevard Visa Debit Card is issued by Central Bank of Kansas City pursuant to a license from Visa U.S.A. Inc. Certain fees, terms, and conditions are associated with the approval, maintenance, and use of the Card, you should consult your Deposit Account Agreement and Fee Schedule or contact us toll-free at 1-888-281-BLVD, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days of the year. In order for you to be paid early, your payroll or benefits payment provider must submit the deposit early. It is important to note that your payroll or benefits payment provider may not submit the deposit or payment early each payment period. Be sure to ask your payroll or benefits payment provider when they submit your deposit information to the bank for processing. Early deposit of funds will begin upon the 2nd qualifying deposit. A qualifying deposit is defined as a direct deposit greater than $5.00 received from the same payer.


Tag: Diversity Tag: Financial Inclusion Tag: Financial Literacy Tag: Digital commerce

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