New banks

‘The financial industry was not built to serve the needs of melanated people because we were excluded from its construction’: Visa partners on crypto with First Boulevard

  • Visa partnered with digital bank First Boulevard for the anticipated launch of its crypto API pilot program.
  • The challenger bank which is focused on increasing financial inclusion for the Black community will enable its customers to purchase, trade and custody digital assets.

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‘The financial industry was not built to serve the needs of melanated people because we were excluded from its construction’: Visa partners on crypto with First Boulevard

Earlier this month, Visa partnered with challenger bank First Boulevard for its Crypto API pilot program which is expected to launch later this year. First Boulevard is focused on building generational wealth for the Black community and will be the first to pilot Visa’s new range of crypto APIs. 

The pilot will allow First Boulevard customers to buy, sell and store crypto assets administered by Anchorage, the first federally chartered digital assets bank. The soft launch underscores the first stage roll out of Visa’s crypto APIs before they are made available for Visa clients to integrate crypto features within their own products.

The pilot program marks the latest step in Visa’s digital currency strategy which is about expanding Visa’s role as a “network of networks” and a partner of choice for fintechs. 

“The idea is to help fintechs and financial institutions that lack a crypto offering to build one,” said Cuy Sheffield, head of crypto at Visa. “Providing access to crypto features within their core banking products and mobile apps can help financial institutions attract, retain and further engage their customers. Additionally, the program could help fintechs and our financial institution clients compete with crypto exchanges and create additional revenue streams.”

Visa’s global payments network currently supports around 70 million merchants and the company has partnered with 35 crypto platforms, such as Coinbase, over the years. 

For Visa, its digital currency strategy could be about more than just testing the waters — for some industry participants that are strong proponents of blockchain, it could be an existential move.

“Visa sees the writing on the wall. Digital currencies, particularly stablecoins, will be the dominant currency format in the next 10 years,” said William Quigley, a cryptocurrency fund manager at Magnetic, a blockchain and crypto investment firm.

“Every global financial network will have to embrace blockchain technology or be disrupted by it.”

Visa’s partnership with First Boulevard is part of the payment provider’s diversity and inclusion strategy for increasing financial empowerment opportunities for Black Americans and other underrepresented minorities. The Kansas-based First Boulevard is committed to building an inclusive financial infrastructure for Black America and prioritizes the financial needs of black women. 

“Visa is the payments industry leader and we wanted to ensure the Black community had access to the best solutions available,” said Donald Hawkins, president of First Boulevard.  “From the beginning of our conversations with Visa, it was clear they were distinctly aligned with our vision of bridging the gap between assets like Bitcoin and our community.”

In addition to First Boulevard, Visa recently partnered with Black-owned banks CapWay and One United Bank that cater to the financial and business needs of the Black community. 

It also partnered with Urban One, a media company that primarily targets Black American consumers with its rewards-based debit card, One VIP, that donates redeemed points for cash back or for donations to Black charities. 

Black consumers in America represent $1.4 trillion in buying power but the average Black American family holds less than 15 percent of the wealth of the average white American family. According to the Institute for Policy Studies, if the current racial wealth divide is left unaddressed, the median black household wealth will hit $0 by 2053, in contrast to the median white household wealth which would climb to $137,000 by 2053.

“The current financial industry was not built to serve the needs of melanated people because we were excluded from its construction,” said Asya Bradley, co-founder of First Boulevard.

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