Tech companies BlocPal International and OneFeather have come together to create a digital banking app for Indigenous communities in Canada called the OneFeather APP.
By using the OneFeather APP, which is available to download for Apple and Android, Indigenous people in Canada now have access to online banking solutions, digital voting and status card renewals all in one digital wallet.
While the rest of Canada seems to have taken the step into a digitally transformed world, it did so leaving the Indigenous community behind. Of the approximately two million Indigenous peoples living in Canada, 15 per cent are unbanked, meaning they do not use banking services, according to Sushant Trivedi, chief marketing officer at BlocPal International.
“The largest unbanked population in Canada is the Indigenous community…marginalized communities were [historically] excluded from the traditional financial system, because of the outdated model or just basic education and access,” Trivedi said.
The partnership between BlocPal and OneFeather is solving some of the technological issues through the OneFeather APP. According to Trivedi, it was the “perfect marriage.” With the education, community background, and expertise from OneFeather, BlocPal’s technology was able to blend in easily to help create the platform.
BlocPal works with marginalized communities worldwide to help provide them with access to digital banking. While these communities may have access to police stations, fire stations, hospitals and other essentials, what they often lack is a bank that they can trust. BlocPal is bridging that gap.
“Technology has enabled us to convert all these mom and pop retail outlets into mini banking solutions, convert them into offered financial solutions. Now, the place that you are visiting to buy milk, eggs, cheese and other groceries, you can also perform financial transactions over there,” Trivedi said.
The importance of safe banking services
The OneFeather APP is able to keep money within Indigenous communities so they know that their money is being distributed in a safe and fair way. The CEO of OneFeather, Lawrence Lewis, describes how difficult it can be to process cheques or cash within Indigenous communities.
“When they get a cheque… or some other kind of payment, they’ve got to go to a Money Mart or something else [to cash it], and lose 20 per cent off the top,” he said.
The OneFeather APP is doing something that mainstream Canadian banking platforms may not be able to provide to Indigenous peoples: keeping the community safe. Incidents like one Trivedi referenced when an Indigenous man and his granddaughter were suspected of committing fraud and handcuffed when simply trying to open a bank account at a BMO in Vancouver could be avoided with a digital banking platform. OneFeather’s digital service is for Indigenous people, made by Indigenous people.
“We can actually leave more money in their account instead of wasting [it],” Trivedi said. With technology, OneFeather users are able to send money to people across the country, deposit money and make payments with OneFeather PAY.
Giving back to the community
The OneFeather APP also allows users to use OneFeather Tokens or 1FT.
1FT’s are a type of reward that users will earn upon transactions. Similar to Air Miles, they are shareable with friends and family through the app and can be used at an Indigenous business to purchase products. 1FT’s are a great way to give back to the community, which is a common Indigenous practice according to Lewis.
“Where I come from, wealth is returned to the community. So every year they have these celebrations. And folks that have wealth redistribute that wealth back to other members in the community,” he said.
According to Lewis, almost half of Indigenous people do not live within their nation’s community. The OneFeather APP allows them to vote in their nation’s elections regardless of their location. OneFeather offered this service in the past but now, with the app, it is more accessible.
“Their ability to participate in the local government decisions is often dictated by geography. So let’s take that out of the equation, provide them with a digital solution so that they can participate in those important decision-making issues back home,” said Lewis.
Aside from voting, another non-banking feature that the OneFeather APP provides is digital federal ID.
Federal status cards are a very common form of ID for Indigenous people. But the renewal process is still outdated and mainly paper-based, Lewis said. The process includes mailing a passport-style photo and then completing paper forms. Often 70 per cent of forms get sent back because they were not completed correctly, frequently for what Lewis described as “nonsensical” things such as an unchecked box or forgetting to write in block letters.
On the OneFeather APP, renewing a status card is possible with just a click of a button. Users fill out the form online and submit it electronically.
Digital transformation with the pandemic
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic digital transformation has become a top priority for many companies. Trivedi observed that during the pandemic, leaving the house became a risk, so being able to access everything online was almost essential for many. While the pandemic did not accelerate the need for this service as the companies were already on track to release the app, according to Lewis, it did help many Indigenous people who were hesitant about using a digital platform see the importance of it.
The OneFeather APP will now make it simple for Indigenous communities to access all their digital essentials without ever having to set foot in a traditional bank.
Advancing these communities can only start from within and the OneFeather APP is a great example of this. According to Lewis it will help remove barriers that so many Indigenous communities face when it comes to technology, and allow for Indigenous peoples to participate in the digital age.