The only neobank for Natives is partnering with tribes to improve financial health and access to benefits for Native Americans nationwide.
Tulsa, Oklahoma — More Native American households are unbanked than any other racial/ethnic group in the U.S. Two Oklahoma-born entrepreneurs are looking to change the status quo with the launch of Totem, a digital banking app by and for Natives. Totem co-founders, Amber Buker, an enrolled member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, and Richard Chance, an enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation, are intimately familiar with the barriers that many Natives face to financial inclusion. “Money was always a negative topic in my household growing up, so we just didn’t talk about it,” says Buker, Totem’s CEO.
“That led me to make a lot of financial mistakes as a young person. It’s a familiar cycle for many Native families — one that we want to break by building an intuitive, inclusive banking app.”
Chance is responsible for building the technology as Totem’s CTO. “As Natives in tech, we have a responsibility to build a thoughtful, secure product with a mindset that prioritizes indigenous ways of knowing and being. We have an amazing opportunity to build something that our people can trust and use to improve their lives.”
In addition to a checking account and debit card, Totem plans to feature a credit builder product to combat the problem of credit invisibility. Native Americans and other minorities are significantly more likely to be credit invisible than white populations. The startup’s roadmap includes other Native-focused products including a powwow finder, charitable giving app, and content that highlights Native brands and creators as well as targeted financial education.
Totem’s core business model presents a departure from that of other neobanks with its business-to-business offering for tribal governments. Tribes disburse millions of dollars to their members each year for different types of benefits from per capita payments to money for burial assistance or school supplies. Totem plans to partner with individual tribes to develop uniquely branded versions of its app that will educate tribal members about available benefits. Totem will also facilitate benefit payouts for the tribes it partners with, many of which still rely on costly and time-consuming paper checks to disburse funds.
“Most neobank models will not survive over the long run,” explains Jason Henrichs, an ex-banker, co-founder of one of the world's first neobanks, and General Partner of the Alloy Alchemist Fund, a bank-led fund participating in Totem’s pre-seed funding round. “But Totem isn't dependent on the typical interchange revenue model. It has built an antifragile business model with recurring B2B revenue and strong distribution partnerships that drive down acquisition costs.”
Totem closes its pre-seed round in early fall. The group of investors is led by Raven Indigenous Capital Partners, Canada's first Indigenous-led and owned social finance intermediary. Raven’s U.S. Market Lead, Garry McBerryhill, described the group’s enthusiasm for the company stating,
“Totem is building important tools for improving the wellbeing of indigenous people, which aligns directly with our mission at Raven. We’re proud to support their work highlighting our people’s entrepreneurial spirit, generosity, and unique ability to deploy money as medicine that lifts up our communities.”
About Totem Technologies, Inc.
Totem is creating a new tradition of Native wealth building through digital banking. It accomplishes this goal by partnering with sovereign tribal governments to deliver culturally relevant financial products, education, and streamlined access to tribal benefits.