A challenger bank for Native Americans is using new funding to hire staff as it builds its app from scratch.
On Tuesday, Totem, which is based in Tulsa, Oklahoma, announced that it had raised $2.2 million in pre-seed funding. The round was led by Raven Indigenous Capital Partners, which is based in Canada and invests in Indigenous social enterprises. Other investors in the round include the Alloy Alchemist Fund, Debut Capital, Ruthless for Good and the Candide Group.
The bank is focused on solving financial barriers to Native Americans “to change the status quo and create a new tradition of Native wealth-building,” Amber Buker, founder and CEO of Totem, said in a press release. “We’re doing it in a way that honors and uplifts our people.”
Totem will go live in early 2023 as a mobile banking app with a spending account, debit card, early paycheck access, information about tribal benefits and more. The Native American population is currently served by several dozen dedicated banks, credit unions and community development financial institutions, but Totem appears to be the first challenger bank focusing on this audience. On the company’s roadmap are features such as credit-building, charitable giving and Native-specific mortgages, such Section 184 loans from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Buker also plans to white-label the app to individual tribes, which could feature that tribe’s colors and language and provide a way to distribute tribal benefits electronically. This will let Totem strike a balance between national coverage for people who do not live on a reservation but identify as Native, and for those who are closely tied to their tribes. It will also afford revenue for Totem beyond interchange income.
“Connecting tribal members to their benefits could be a game changer in someone’s life,” Jimmy Chen, founder and CEO of Propel, said in the release. Propel builds technology for low-income people to improve their financial health and was an angel investor in the round. “We believe improving access to benefits will help to unlock the true promise of restorative support and social safety nets.”
First Pryority Bank in Pryor, Oklahoma, which has $315.2 million of assets, will provide underlying banking services for Totem.