refugee crisis
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Fintechs Fast Out of Blocks in Helping Ease Refugee Crisis but Experts Call for More Action

The received wisdom is that fintechs thrive during times of adversity. The financial crisis and Covid, experts say, saw the best of fintech (the first crisis giving birth to fintech, the second seeing fintech rescue thousands of embattled businesses).

Likewise, the refugee crisis, a long-standing stain on the human consciousness, is largely painting fintech in a glowing light but experts believe fintech can do more.

Alex Guts, chief business officer, Banxe
Alex Guts, chief business officer, Banxe

Alex Guts, chief business officer, Banxe, which provides banking and crypto services, issued a clarion call to fintechs and other businesses.

He said: “Forget talent attraction and retention levels purely for business gain and increased market percentage, and provide opportunities for humanitarian reasons. Some things are far more important than just profit.”

The refugee challenge

Across Europe, millions have fled violence or persecution to seek refugee status in the EU. And the refugee problem is similarly acute in other parts of the world.

In many cases it is fintechs, not traditional financial institutions, which are providing a salve to soothe the manifold and pressing challenges facing refugees.

The challenges run from language problems, complicated legal situations, absence of digital identity and banking arrangements, remittance issues, and a lack of lending solutions and employment opportunities.

Fintechs are not only helping fix these issues but they are going above-and-beyond that.

They are also working with non-profits and aid organisations, using their digital wherewithal to provide them with the traceability of refugees’ financial transactions.

In some cases, they are also  undertaking crowdfunding endeavours so refugees can submit business ideas which investors can invest or donate to.

Refugee entrepreneurship offers ‘tangible rewards’

As the UN Conference on Trade and Development points out, helping ease the migration crisis through endeavours like entrepreneurism is a win for all.

The UN says it offers tangible opportunities for refugees in their destination countries, as both a driver of financial inclusion as well as a means through which societal perceptions of refugees can be changed.

“Supporting migrant and refugee entrepreneurship, therefore, has the potential to deliver shared benefits for both foreign-born and native-born populations,” it says.

Ukraine

Fintechs saw Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its devastating impact on Ukrainians, with millions fleeing the country, as a call to action.

Bunq, TransferGo, Zopa and Monese were among those that raced to help out, with fintechs providing donations along with services to help with visas, payments, and employment opportunities. Plus there was support with job search portals and free online training opportunities.

One example of a fundraising campaign, helping Ukrainian and other refugees, was undertaken by multi-asset broker Vantage. It teamed up with the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, committing to match donations from its clients in a month-long campaign, with funds supporting humanitarian efforts undertaken by the UN.

Meanwhile, Nikolay Storonsky, the co-founder and CEO of Revolut,  renounced his Russian citizenship. Stroronsky has publicly spoken out about his opposition to the war in Ukraine calling the war “totally abhorrent”.

The complexities facing displaced Ukrainians, from navigating through re-tape, obtaining visas, and accessing basic banking functions, have been exacerbated as not all major banks allow refugees to open bank accounts in their new homes.

To a degree, fintechs across Europe have stepped into the breach, acting nimbly and cutting out excessive bureaucracy to help refugees access banking services. Yet accessing banking services needs to be complemented by secure accommodation and employment for refugees to truly settle in there adopted country.

The outpouring of goodwill towards displaced Ukrainians was writ large in research showing four out of five UK employers would welcome applications from Ukrainian refugees, and believe it would help ease the UK’s staffing crisis.

But it’s not solely goodwill, as Ukraine has a thriving and highly skilled tech employment base with the likes of Microsoft, Snap and Siemens having research and development centres in the country.

Guts said: “There is a wealth of experience, expertise and talent from Ukraine just waiting to be harnessed, and the country’s citizens could go some way in helping to further develop and grow the UK’s technology industry. Skills gaps need to be filled by businesses and innovation must continue to happen – Ukrainian citizens can more than help plug those gaps.”

Fintech has grabbed the baton and reached out to displaced Ukrainian tech workers.

For example, the co-founders of Bunq, Picnic and MessageBird launched the People for People imitative, which is helping hire Ukrainians with highly skilled migrant visas. Other European fintechs have also reached out to help with employment opportunities.

Turkish fintech helping refugees find jobs

In Turkey, many startups are helping provide livelihoods for hundreds of thousands of refugees, highlighting the ‘power of enterprises’.

One such startup is Istanbul-based MigPort, which was inspired by its co-founder’s migration journey. Established in 2016, MigPort set out to help refugees share ideas and knowledge and connect with volunteers to help refugees surmount financial and educational challenges.

Berat Kjamili
Berat Kjamili, co-founder of Migport

Co-founder Berat Kjamili says MigPort’s focus is now  “on helping organisations who work with refugees to prepare financial tools for the refugee community. To talk to them, understand their skill set and provide the right tools for refugees.”

For example, MigPort brings together native entrepreneurs with refugee entrepreneurs, hosting entrepreneurial programmes and hackathons, helping provide both parties with tools to start businesses together.

MigPort works mainly across eastern Europe and in the Americas and is used by tens of thousands of refugees, according to Kjamili.

He says that MigPort offers fast and easy-to-understand services and, unlike big financial intuitions, which typically work with refugees through third parties, MigPort works directly with refugees, which he says is a big advantage. 

US startup helping refugees transport financial history

Helping immigrants port their financial history is the key focus of Nova Credit, a San Francisco-based fintech. Nova, founded in 2015, began focusing on the US immigrant community, who are often hamstrung by being unable to access the broader market for domestic financial services owing to a lack of a US credit history.

Nova enables banks and fintechs to access a global base of foreign credit bureau data so that they can approve immigrants who are otherwise ‘credit invisible’, according to its CEO and co-founder Misha Esipov.

By doing so, this means a migrant’s financial identity and credit history can move with them around the world in the same way that you can move around the world with a passport.

“We are an enabler that allows them to access this information that would otherwise take them six years to tap into and build these partnerships, everything that we’ve done around the world, and that’s something that they can do as a service in a matter of days,” Esipov told AltFi.

Nova has now broadened its services out beyond the US to Europe, where it believes its data services can prove invaluable to displaced Ukrainians and others.

Support African workers

As the UK ‘s approach to immigration (with many fleeing African countries) faces criticism, the co-founder of an African software firm believes tackling the issue at the border should be complemented by supporting Africa’s digital transformation to stem the UK’s immigration crisis.

Anu Adedoyin Adasolum, co-founder of Sabi
Anu Adedoyin Adasolum, co-founder of Sabi

Anu Adedoyin Adasolum, co-founder of Sabi, said: “Providers of digital financial services for the informal sector in Africa can dramatically influence the trajectory of a refugee’s life, providing critical support that allows them to establish and grow small businesses and ensures long-term financial security.

“It’s not just about making it easier for informal traders to sell the goods, it’s about providing a platform that educates and informs the trader about accounting, payments, costs and their market.

“There is a huge opportunity in better supporting informal traders on the continent and empowering these entrepreneurs will have considerable knock-on effects for their families and their future.

“Not only will Africa’s digital transformation provide work opportunities for those displaced, but  technological advances can also be used to formalise, structure and transform the refugee resettlement process itself.”

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