Native American-owned company Totem seeks to revolutionize banking in Indian Country
Tribal Business News reported earlier this month that an Indigenous-owned company “aims to harness the power of technology to change how Native Americans bank, and in some cases, provide them banking and financial services for the first time.”
Totem Technologies Inc. is currently closing on an initial pre-seed round of funding to build out its digital banking app. The app will offer Native people the convenience of digital banking regardless of where they live, help them better engage with their culture and also keep more economic activity within Indian Country.
Totem is in the process of forging business-to-business relationships with tribal governments to help “streamline the process of distributing benefits” to tribal members, said CEO Amber Buker, an enrolled member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.
“Tribes are really sophisticated. They’re sovereign governments with complex budgets and economic development,” Buker said. “On top of all of that, they’re trying to provide all these benefits, which requires skills, but they are not the main skills that a tribe needs to be worried about, like building apps. We can own that.”
Bunker first had the idea when she was going through the process of improving her credit to purchase a house. While she was going through this process, she was reminded that through her tribe she could qualify for down payment assistance.
However, Bunker couldn’t connect to the right person and the lender helping her at the time had no incentive to do it.
“I remember thinking: If I just had a bank that understood what it is to be Native and what these benefits are, the whole thing could have gone really differently,” she said.
Totem can serve as a conduit for tribes to send out electronic distributions without the hassle of printing and mailing paper checks, plus it can help citizens more easily access tribal financial services, such as down payment assistance programs or scholarships. Also, the company plans to fill in some gaps with credit-building education.
According to data from the Federal Reserve, 16 percent of American Indians and Alaska Natives were unbanked as of 2019, and just one in three Native Americans has a strong or very strong relationship with a lender.
The company will give tribes the option to brand the app and services however they want, or use the company’s branding, Buker said. The company will lean on the tribes for help in spreading the word about the app and getting tribal members to use it for services.
Also, as part of the partnership, Totem will share with tribes the interchange revenue that it receives whenever tribal members use their debit cards for purchases.
“The great thing is when we partner with tribes, value flows back into the community,” Buker said. “You’re actually getting a piece of every transaction back into the tribal community.”
Source: Tribal Business News. “Native American-owned fintech Totem wants to revolutionize banking in Indian Country.” Aug. 1, 2022