An equitable, all-encompassing bank for African Americans – Interview with Obsidian

Wednesday 25 May 2022 09:46 CET | Editor: Oana Ifrim | Interview

Damon Kirk-Gregory and Steven Farrar talk about Obsidian`s mission to increase financial wellness amongst Black Americans and help decrease the racial wealth gap in the US.

Just to start off we would love to hear about your background and career path that brought you to launching Obsidian Banking.

Both of us are born and raised on the west side of Detroit, Michigan. Steven has a background in accounting and finance, having helped manage over a billion dollars in assets with our local government. He’s also rooted in the community in Detroit. He founded Linking Literature, LLC in 2015, a community organisation focused on creative writing and improving literacy rates amongst Black youth. To date, they’ve put over 15,000 books directly in kids’ hands, and their online writing platform has an audience of over 14,000 in 137 countries. 

Could you please tell us more about the Black communities in the US, and why financial inclusion has become a challenge for this group? What specific challenges faces this sector?

The black communities are filled with talented and inspired people who, if given an equitable chance, would thrive in America. Access to fair and honest debt, and education on why debt is necessary to build wealth. Our community has been preyed on with high interest debt, causing fear and hesitance.   

How has the COVID-19 pandemic widened these challenges?

COVID-19 widened because it introduced all-time low interest rates to the housing market, starting a refinance boom in America. Wells Fargo declined 53% of all its Black refinance applications, while approving 72% of all its White applications. Bloomberg found the lowest income earning white applicants were at nearly the same rate as high income earning Black applicants. 

Can you talk a little more about the company's mission, its main goals, and objectives? What is the company's social mission? Who are your Banking-as-a-Service partners?

Obsidian‘s mission is to be an equitable, all-encompassing bank for African-Americans. We look to simplify banking and investing for Black people, giving them a personalised banking experience with the ability to passively invest with every transaction. Our goals are to turn every Black American into an investor, and to get bank accounts to the 7.3 million unbanked Black Americans. Our social mission is to increase financial wellness amongst Black Americans and help decrease the racial wealth gap in the US. Our BaaS partner is Synctera - their CEO Peter Hazelhurst previously led a task similar to this in Brazil. 

What are your main sources of funds that allow you to work towards fulfilling your mission?

We’re currently bootstrapped, entirely self-funded through this point. Our passion to stop the current humanitarian crisis that black people are facing is what drives us. 

What sets you apart from other neobanks targeted towards Black communities?

We’ve built a product without compromise. Other banks targeting the Black community have taken the traditional routes of marketing to Black people, utilising entertainers, athletes, and social platforms. We’ve sought out the very best in banking to build the best experience, solely dedicated to improving the financial wellbeing of Black Americans. 

Your soft launch is set for 19 June this year. How long has this been in the works and what were the challenges you've had to overcome? What is your go-to-market strategy?

We’ve been building Obsidian for over two years and have faced many challenges along the way. We were told early on from an industry vet that we’d have to be careful on friend or foe as Black founders in this industry. This is an industry that genuinely doesn’t cater to Black Americans, and the stats are a direct indication of this. However, we’ve made some really good friends with industry leaders that have shown strong support for our mission. Historically, Black America has thrived when the Black banking sector is thriving. We hope to inspire more forward-thinking companies representing the underserved in this space. We’re choosing to take a different approach with our go-to-market strategy, applying an analogue approach to this digital world. We’re launching our nationwide Black financial wellness campaign on Juneteenth, going door-to-door in Black communities, providing financial literacy resources including Bank of America’s Better Money Habits, and easy-to-start summer business plans for kids. We plan to go to one million households annually, getting our people banked. 

What steps can policymakers take to ensure that the Black communities are not left out of existing financial services?

America promised its Black Americans 40 acres of what became very expensive land, but they've never delivered. Giving us that much now would be infeasible, but what they should do is offer the VA loan to every Black American. The VA loan offers military members and veterans the ability to purchase a home with no down payment. Primary residence is the most important asset for all net worth classes up to USD 1 million. 

Can you discuss a little bit about future plans for Obsidian? What do you want to see a year or two from now?

Obsidian plans for a soft launch on Juneteenth (an annual holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the US), including a small beta test. We will be rolling out our banking suite in Phase 1, including early direct deposits, P2P transactions, and passive investing. Phase 2 will be the rollout of our equitable lending options, including secured credit cards and an integrated, non-predatory BNPL solution. The next 18-24 months are sure to be a fun ride for Obsidian.

About Obsidian

Obsidian is an elite mobile banking and investing platform catered to Black Americans. 


About Steven Farrar and Damon Kirk-Gregory

Steven Farrar is the Co-Founder and CFO of Obsidian. He’s a 29-year-old product of Detroit, dedicated to equity and socioeconomic progress in all of his work. 


Damon Kirk-Gregory, Founder and CEO, is also a 28-year, military veteran, born and raised in Detroit. The father of two beautiful children, his life is dedicated to improving the lives of those around him. 

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Keywords: financial inclusion, mobile banking, financial wellness, financial services
Categories: Banking & Fintech
Companies: Obsidian
Countries: United States
This article is part of category

Banking & Fintech


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