When Rob Curtis was running Gaydar back in 2018, he’d sit in chat rooms and watch the amorous hopefuls talk. “It was a dating site, but they were asking for help finding doctors, accountants, trying to navigate the complexities of being LGBTQ+ in a world not quite designed for us,” he says. Fast-forward three years and Curtis is trying to answer some of those questions with Daylight—a New York-based startup neobank, built for the LGBTQ+ community by three “queer millennials, to solve problems we’ve experienced already.”
For instance, Daylight provides debit cards with your chosen name, no matter what your ID says. Plus features such as Walk the Walk, an analytics tool to rate companies on their gender-inclusive toilets, use of pronouns, and the causes owners support in monthly reports, telling Daylight customers how much they’ve spent at outlets rated LGBTQ+ unfriendly. “This isn’t about cancel culture,” says Curtis. “It’s offering greater transparency to a massive economic bloc that cares who legitimately shows up.”
Queer finance wasn’t an easy sell. “It was a real challenge to convince investors LGBTQ+ people had specific financial needs and that we could build a large, profitable business doing that,” Curtis says. They pitched the idea almost 100 times, “learning to tell our story better each time.” By June 2021, when they convinced Kapor Capital and Precursor Ventures to lead a $5 million seed round, they had a coalition of backers: queer angel investors, fintech syndicates, Citibank’s Impact fund. Thousands of LGBTQ+ people are on Daylight’s waiting list ahead of its pre-Christmas launch in the US.
“You can’t provide great services to LGBTQ+ people just by slapping a rainbow sticker on things,” says Paul Barnes-Hoggett, cofounder and chief technical officer. “You need to understand our unique needs.” Like “the pain, as a gay man, of going into a bank and being asked ‘What does your wife do?,’” he says. Having been designed by LGBTQ+ people, a big part of what Daylight sells to customers is relief: Barnes-Hoggett says that “microaggressions, intentional or not,” just won’t happen with Daylight.
Community-related content is a chunk of that deal. Members can share fertility goals and treatment successes alongside advice on how to fund them. “Personalization is at the heart of our vision for the future,” Barnes-Hoggett says, something increasingly in demand via bank services, products and pricing. Barnes-Hoggett learned this at Alice Financial, a startup he cofounded in 2014; US employers connect the app to payroll, employees connect their debit cards, and Alice locates potentially eligible expenses, such as childcare, to reduce the employee’s taxable income and save them money when filing their income tax return. The platform effectively gives some of America’s lowest paid a $1-an-hour raise. “Many were on the breadline,” Barnes-Hoggett says. “We had a principle: Don’t mess with someone’s paycheck. Because lives are at stake, I learned to get the basics right.”
Hardship crosses over, too. On average, LGBTQ+ people earn less, more often live in poverty, and have less in pension savings, with queer women of color and transgender people faring significantly worse than the LGBTQ+ average. Big banks, says Billie Simmons, cofounder and Daylight’s chief operating officer, treat LGBTQ+ people “like a monolithic group” when they need tailored financial advice. “There’s this pervasive idea of queer people awash in disposable income—‘two incomes, no kids,’” says Simmons. “Sure, two white, cisgendered gay men might find themselves in this situation in San Francisco or New York, where it’s easier to be LGBTQ+, but that’s not universal.” When loans for hormone therapy or HIV treatment are declined, many people find nowhere to go except expensive high-interest credit cards to fill the gaps.
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“As a transgender woman, I live daily with the financial costs of gender-affirming care, which often isn’t covered by workplace health care—if you’re lucky enough to have it,” says Simmons. Gender transition can cost more than $100,000. Daylight plans to offer loans for it, and for fertility treatment. “Folks turn to Twitter and Instagram to crowdfund transitions,” says Simmons. “It’s 2021. There has to be a better solution—we want to fill that gap.” As well as letting members donate directly to queer-aligned nonprofits via its app, Daylight is planning a feature to let them crowdfund from each other, or offer members direct financial support as an alternative to crowdsourcing their transition and other costs using platforms such as GoFundMe.
More Americans than ever—18 million—self-identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer, according to a Gallup poll in 2020, up 60 percent from 2012. A previous study puts the figure at 32 million, with a collective spending power of $1 trillion a year. “That’s almost the GDP of Mexico,” says Curtis. “This is an incredible opportunity to impact millions of lives and have some small part in shaping the future for our community.”
Britain could soon experience Daylight. UK bank consumers have swung from abject loyalty to feline fickleness via comparison sites and the Current Account Switching Service, chasing savings rates and golden hellos. But consumer activism is here too: Ethical bank Triodos’ UK customer base grew 20 percent in 2020. “We don’t think it’ll be long before Daylight comes to Old Blighty to show UK banks how it’s done,” Simmons says.
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