HOUSTON – The process of sending money and calling loved ones back in the homeland can be a major challenge for the migrant community in the U.S. Historically, the process has been expensive, complex and for migrants from some countries, impossible.
MAJORITY, a new digital bank, is prioritizing the needs of this marginalized community and has created an affordable and easy-to-use solution. The financial institution opened its headquarters and community hub in southwest Houston this week. The center is at 9801 Bissonnet Street.
“We felt this was the perfect place for us to start the journey of MAJORITY,” CEO Magnus Larsson said. “We built the product together with the community here.”
MAJORITY has about 20,000 users and 5,000 subscribers. Membership costs $5 per month and includes bank transfers, direct deposit, native language advisors, an FDIC-insured account and a Visa prepaid card. Users have access to 55,000 ATMs across North America, no overdraft fees, a network of community meet-up spaces, local discounts and events.
The application has free and unlimited money transfers to about 20 countries, including Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya and Senegal. Mexico will become available in the spring. The platform also features free international calling to more than 25 countries.
The product is currently available for anyone living in the U.S.
For migrants, built by migrants
The financial needs of each migrant community vastly depend on the technological capabilities of the home country, Larsson said.
In some countries, people must buy credits or minutes in order to make international calls. While making international calls can get pricing within the U.S. as well.
“We are working with different communities and looking to solve the major pain points,” Larsson said.
For example, a Cuban migrant living in Florida wouldn’t send money through bank accounts, which rarely exist, but through mobile top-ups, which they can use to make calls or have wireless data for video chat and other uses, Larsson said.
In contrast, users can send money through bank accounts to and from Nigeria.
The mass movement of people can be polarizing and controversial, but that is not slowing down the number of people relocating, nor the issues that permeate from those communities. In fact, nearly 300 million people, or one in every 30 people in the world, were living outside their country of birth in 2017, according to the Legatum Insitute.
Securing financial independence for the migrant community is critical to the world’s infrastructure, Larsson said.
Seven countries accept the majority of immigrants and the largest portion migrates to the United States.
“This is a country built on immigration,” he said.
Houston, one of the most diverse cities in the nation, was the best place to launch MAJORITY. The city reflects a broader mission to connect with the local community, Larsson said. The community hub will serve as a place for people to make connections, get financial assistance, attend events and seminars or visit the coffee shop.
“In just one week, we can host everything from a networking event for female Latina entrepreneurs, an African afrobeat DJ-battle, a budgeting workshops or even a keynote on how to settle all your legal documentation,” Larsson said. “But mostly, we want to create a destination within the Houston community where our staff, clients and migrants can feel safe, seen and heard.”
MAJORITY has established corporate and local partnerships to expand its mission, but also to recognize and support migrant-owned businesses within the community.
Oromeni Olayiwole, the operations manager, leads about 25 Texas-based sales advisers, who connect with potential users at local businesses. The advisers inform people how to sign up new users and show them how to use the platform.
“We pride ourselves in going into the grassroots communities and trying to partner with every single (business). Because those are the ones who actually use the product," Olayiwole said. “We are right here to support every need you may have.”
Building a tech firm
This is not the first tech company Larsson has successfully built.
Larsson is also the CEO of Rebtel, a Swedish-based tech company that offers international calling services for migrant communities across the world. Rebtel is a $100 million business with about 1 million customers, according to Larsson.
MAJORITY was started in Sweden by a group of banking, financial technology, payment and telecom executives, who have served the migrant community for the last 15 years. However, the migrant community in Houston help determine the services and the design and tested the product. Last year, the company launched an invite-only beta version of the app and earlier this month, they opened the MAJORITY platform to anyone living in the U.S.
MAJORITY’s long-term goal is to provide a positive outlook for the financial concerns of the migrant community. The brand will open its next community hub in Florida and then quickly expand to other cities.
“We believe will bring ambition and inspiration of the community further,” Larsson said.