Recently in Lebanon, dollars have been hard to come by. Since 1975, the Lebanese pound has been pegged to the dollar. Businesses and consumers that buy certain products (such as gasoline) in dollars have been severely impacted in the past few years. Watching the country’s recent political, economic and health crises intensify, Moataz Alobaid knew he had a solution to the problem of finding dollars.
Bankey is a secure mobile money platform that extends financial services to refugees, migrants and other unbanked people by connecting them to a network of banked individuals and businesses known as “keys”. Co-founder Moataz is a key himself, helping unbanked family members and using Bankey outside of the US to cover important remittances. The idea for the company started as a solution for the unbanked in rural areas, where people are very connected and trust each other more than in cities. Bankey’s solution today focuses on connecting diasporas, the unbanked and small businesses for better use of remittance money. People are already using corner stores, barber shops and other trusted locals to access cash when needed.
Moataz’s own personal story underlies his passion for Bankey. Growing up in a family of eight in rural Lebanon, Moataz was entirely cash dependent until he moved to Turkey to attend university. Now as a Lebanese diaspora, Moataz has difficulty sending money home as no one has a bank account. However, everyone has a smartphone. Cash exchange is already happening informally throughout MENA. Bankey’s thesis is that banked people can extend banking services for those who are not, evolving from the way in which Moataz’s own family dealt with being unbanked.
Bankey plays the role of the improbable challenger against more traditional fintech companies by using technology to build upon an already concrete cultural practice. Bankey has a competitive edge over startups outside the MENA region in that the platform cross- border connects unbanked people with a community of individuals or businesses by converting their paper cash to digital cash. Beyond a remittance platform, Bankey provides a mechanism for the unbanked to securely store cash, establish a financial footprint and build a bridge towards a formal banking relationship. This evokes a sentiment of inclusion within the community and empowers the economy of Lebanon, as it relies significantly on remittances.