Provides financial services to refugees on a mobile device through blockchain technology
Applicant name: Leaf Global Fintech
Innovation Name: Leaf Global Fintech
Innovation Type: Service
Mission: Leaf provides financial services to refugees on a mobile device through blockchain technology.
Innovation Description: Leaf enables customers to digitally store savings, receive money from abroad, and manage money from a mobile device no matter where they go—no smartphone required. With Leaf, a customer creates an account and pulls mobile money into it through Leaf’s smartphone app or USSD platform for basic phones. The customer can then travel across borders without cash and access their account anytime. Leaf is the first to successfully deploy a blockchain-based financial solution for people without smartphones. Blockchain makes the application secure, transparent, and inexpensive, while USSD and SMS allow for scalability to the 2.4B people using feature phones. Leaf is built on Stellar, a public blockchain for cross-border payments in emerging markets. Leaf creates multi-currency, individual Stellar wallets on behalf of users that can store value, exchange between currencies, and send between Leaf accounts and mobile money accounts. Leaf’s system allows users to access the benefits of blockchain without the volatility of cryptocurrency.
Innovation Inspiration: The UN has designated over 68 million people as forcibly displaced, with another 100 million at risk of becoming displaced. Often their only option is to forfeit value or carry cash across borders when forced to flee, which is dangerous, inconvenient, and expensive to exchange. Loss of accumulated assets make refugees/migrants targets in the short-term and economically excluded in the long-term. Small cross-border traders experience the same needs. Through over 350 customer interviews, Leaf learned the issues that come with holding funds in cash. Leaf aims to solve these problems for the 66% of people in Africa without bank accounts and the 2 billion unbanked people around the world today. Compared to competitors, Leaf offers a low-cost, convenient, secure solution for money storage and transport. It will be at least 60% cheaper, offer transactions in seconds, and assure customers that their hard-earned money is safe. Leaf avoids a brick-and-mortar retail/agent network and offers services to those without smartphones or bank accounts.
Who benefits from the innovation most? Leaf’s initial target market is 172,000 refugees and small traders with access to mobile money in East Africa and the 41,000 Congolese and Rwandan immigrants they are connected to in the US. From there, Leaf will expand to other refugee/migrant and diaspora communities. Leaf digitizes customers’ money management and drastically reduces fees compared to traditional money transfer services. Leaf’s send-to-self model allows users to reap the benefits of safety and security by eliminating the need to carry cash. Allowing customers to virtually bring their accumulated assets with them is the most valuable aspect of Leaf.
Potential partners such as MTOs and larger financial services can benefit from collaboration with Leaf by gaining access to an untapped market. Leaf capitalizes on existing assets typically overlooked or seen as a liability, such as communication patterns within migrant/refugee communities and the prevalence of feature phones even in today’s advanced technological society.
What are you most proud of about your innovation? Leaf is the first in the world to deploy a blockchain-based financial solution for people without smartphones. Leaf’s core technology is a USSD platform that allows users to access all the functionality of a smartphone application. The use of blockchain makes transactions instantaneous, affordable, secure, and transparent. USSD and SMS allow the service to be used on mobile phones without internet, ensuring scalability to the 2.4B people still using feature phones.
Competing services do not offer the ability to both store money over time and transport it across borders, especially without requiring a smartphone. Traditional banking solutions do not offer cross-border payments and typically will not serve migrants and refugees. Money transfer companies do not store money over time in a wallet. Digital wallets tend to be high bandwidth apps that require consistent internet and a smartphone device. Leaf’s novel approach democratizes digital access to finance by bringing together disparate technologies applied to an underserved market.
Status of Innovation: In-market
Innovation Active Since: 09/01/2019
Applicant Type: Private Company
Headquarter City: Evergreen
Headquarter Country: United States
Year Founded: 2019
Main Category Choice: Remittances For Development
Why do you think you should win this category?:
Refugees and migrants have a wide spectrum of outcomes post-resettlement. Their financial position is the biggest determinant of whether they will pull from the local economy or contribute positively to it through starting businesses and sending money to others. Remittances have more potential to impact this group than almost any other. Leaf makes remittances available to refugees–no matter where they go or how long it takes them to get there–for the first time. Leaf initially reduces the risk of carrying cash across borders and makes remittances affordable and accessible in times of uncertainty.
Leaf is live in 5 East African countries, with its total addressable market being the 68.5 million people designated by the UN as forcibly displaced and the 100 million at risk of becoming displaced.
The Leaf team has spent over 2 years conducting 350+ customer interviews, building a product from scratch to meet refugees and migrants’ needs, obtaining a letter of no objection from the Central Bank of Uganda, and relocating to East Africa.
Secondary Category Choice: Innovation for Africa
Why do you think you should win this category?
Leaf integrates disparate technologies in a new way, opening up the benefits of formal financial services to those who have never had access. By meeting customers in their technological context, Leaf limits behavioral change and can serve the 270M+ people still using basic feature phones in Africa. With remittance costs in Africa higher than any other region and 350M people unbanked, Leaf provides an inexpensive and quick path for sending money between users. Leaf removes many of the costs of money transfer through its innovative blockchain system. Leaf solves interoperability between mobile money operators by default across networks and countries, thereby eliminating the risks that come with carrying cash. This system allows users to benefit from global asset portability and low fees but does not expose them to volatile cryptocurrencies. The Leaf team is primarily based in Rwanda and designed its product based on over 350 customer interviews in the region to make an Africa-first, globally-accessible financial services solution.
Full Name: Tori Samples
Full Name: Nathaniel Robinson
Full Name: Leandre Nsengumuremyi
Role: Lead Software Developer
Full Name: Jake Leve
Role: Senior Research Fellow
Pitch Deck: https://docdro.id/9r3FX2r
Forbes news article highlighting Leaf’s work with refugees: https://www.forbes.com/sites/
Berkeley blockchain accelerator news about SBIR/NSF grant: https://www.xcelerator.
UC Berkeley College of Engineering highlights Leaf’s technology and early success: https://scet.berkeley.edu/
Full Name: Tori Samples