Immigrants Have Been Left Behind by America's Banks. Welcome Tech Aims to Change That.

Ben Bergman

Ben Bergman is the newsroom's senior finance reporter. Previously he was a senior business reporter and host at KPCC, a senior producer at Gimlet Media, a producer at NPR's Morning Edition, and produced two investigative documentaries for KCET. He has been a frequent on-air contributor to business coverage on NPR and Marketplace and has written for The New York Times and Columbia Journalism Review. Ben was a 2017-2018 Knight-Bagehot Fellow in Economic and Business Journalism at Columbia Business School. In his free time, he enjoys skiing, playing poker, and cheering on The Seattle Seahawks.

Welcome Tech

The United States is a nation of immigrants, but traditional banks – along with the rest of corporate America – are doing a lousy job of catering to this rapidly growing demographic. They are leaving a lot of money on the table, according to Amir Hemmat, co-founder and CEO of Welcome Tech.

"If you have an honest conversation with any banking executive they will share that this is not a customer segment they prioritize," Hemmat said.


Hemmat and his co-founder, Raul Lomeli-Azoubel — both of whom are part of first-generation immigrant families — are taking the opposite approach. Welcome specifically addresses the needs of immigrants – particularly the nation's 62.8 million Latinos, half of whom cannot open a bank account at a traditional institution.

Slightly more than a third of Los Angeles County residents — where Welcome is based — were born in another country according to U.S. Census data.

"No other provider is servicing this consumer with the trust, customization and scale that we are," Hemmat said. "We are not just trying to be another financial service for this consumer, but instead a platform that is essential to their ongoing success."

Indeed, the Los Angeles-based company known by customers as Saber Es Poder offers more than banking. It's angling to be a one-stop shop for everything from finding a dentist, to telemedicine, to enrolling in English classes.

Welcome announced Wednesday it has closed a $35 million Series B financing round, bringing its total funding to date to $50 million. The funds will be used to introduce a debit card, a bilingual mobile app and build up a monthly subscription offering.

"We are growing quickly," Hemmat said.

Amir Hemmat, co-founder and CEO of Welcome Tech.Amir Hemmat is co-founder and CEO of Welcome Tech.

Loosening regulation, ample venture funding, and quickly evolving technology has led to a wave of highly successful fintech platforms with no physical branches, like Chime, which reportedly could go public before the end of the year at a $30 billion valuation.

Last month, Pasadena-based Cheese launched a banking app for Asian Immigrants and Asian Americans with funding from Amplify and IdeaLab. Other fintech platforms are targeting the needs of Black and LGTBQ communities.

But some experts are skeptical about the long-term viability of these fintech platforms, given their higher borrowing costs.

"Fintechs can't compete on the funding side," said Rodney Ramcharan, a professor of finance and business economics at USC's Marshall School of Business who previously worked at the board of governors of the Federal Reserve system. "The advantage that fintech businesses have is they have data and algorithms that can price risk better than banks."

Welcome tech

L.A.'s Welcome Tech is known to many customers as Saber Es Poder.

Big banks like JP Morgan Chase have mountains of data of their own and have to get better at harnessing it to assess risks – or they will simply acquire fintech companies, predicted Ramcharan.

"It's not obvious to me the long-term viability of a fintech bank," he added.

Welcome's latest round was co-led by TTV Capital, Owl Ventures and SoftBank Group Corp's SB Opportunity Fund. Santa Monica's Crosscut Ventures, which was part of the company's seed round and led a $10 million Series A round last year, also participated.

"The evolution of neobanks, and growth of financial solutions over the past couple years is proof a solution addressing the rising Hispanic and immigrant community was necessary and one that is rooted in education and empowering the consumer was appealing to me," said Brian Garrett, Crosscut's co-founder and managing director.

Welcome recruited Joe Munoz, the technical founder of Tinder, who became Welcome's chief data officer earlier this year after serving as its first chief technology officer.

With over nine million immigrants using its platform every year, Welcome says it has amassed "the largest collection of proprietary data in the country reflecting the needs of the immigrant community."

In this day and age, collecting user data is very much a double edged sword as Facebook and a slew of other companies can attest. Immigrants are especially concerned about privacy.

Welcome emphasizes that it is a bank by and for immigrants - it is registered as a public benefit corporation. It also says their platform uses military-grade encryption to protect its members data, and never sells its data to third parties.

"We have witnessed how every industry has largely focused on extracting value from this consumer segment and we want to be the company that focuses on creating value for them," Hemmat said.

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Fuel Innovation: 7 Unforgettable Team Building Experiences in LA
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In today's competitive business landscape, team building activities have emerged as a crucial tool for fostering a positive work environment, enhancing productivity, and crucially, improving employee retention. Studies have shown that such activities help employees feel valued, with one report indicating that 93% of those who felt appreciated were more motivated at work. Importantly, team building events may improve retention rates, as employees who feel connected to their colleagues and company culture are more likely to stay long-term. With these benefits in mind, let's explore some of the most engaging and effective team building activities available in Los Angeles.

Pickleball

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Pickleball is a fantastic team bonding activity because of the easy-to-grasp rules and gentle pace make it perfect for everyone, regardless of age or fitness level. The game thrives on communication and teamwork, as players must collaborate and strategize to outplay their opponents, boosting team cohesion. Plus, the lively, fast-paced action sparks friendly competition and laughter, creating a fun and spirited atmosphere that brings everyone closer together. Los Angeles boasts numerous pickleball courts that are easy to rent if you have your own equipment. If you need additional assistance organizing your pickleball outing, there are plenty of full-service companies ready to handle every detail for you.

Resources: Pickle Pop, Corporate Pickle


Escape Room

Image Source: The Escape Game

Escape rooms are a great way to build camaraderie. They require participants to work together, combining their problem-solving skills and creativity to overcome challenges and puzzles. The immersive and time-sensitive nature of escape rooms fosters collaboration and communication. Additionally, the shared experience of tackling complex tasks and reaching a common goal helps build trust and foster positive emotions among colleagues.

Resources: The Escape Game, 60Out


Day Trip to Catalina Island

Image Source: Love Catalina

Catalina Island is a perfect day trip for a team because it provides a break from the usual work environment, allowing team members to relax and connect in a new setting. Shared experiences during the trip, such as exploring new places and participating in fun activities, help build stronger relationships and foster a sense of camaraderie. There are numerous team-building activities such as an arboreal obstacle course, an island tour, scavenger hunts and more.

Resources: Catalina Island Group Activities


Top Golf

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Topgolf is an excellent team building event because it provides an inclusive, relaxed atmosphere that accommodates players of all skill levels, fostering personal connections and improving team morale. The unique blend of competition and entertainment creates an ideal setting for building trust, enhancing communication, and revealing hidden skills among team members. Additionally, Topgolf offers structured team building packages with guided activities, discussion prompts, and lessons on culture, change, collaboration, and strategy, making it a versatile and effective platform for strengthening relationships and boosting overall team performance.

Resources: Topgolf El Segundo


SoFi Stadium Tour

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A SoFi Stadium tour offers a unique, behind-the-scenes experience of one of the world's most advanced sports venues, allowing team members to explore exclusive areas like premium suites, team locker rooms, and the player tunnel together. The tour provides a shared, memorable experience that can foster camaraderie and spark conversations among team members, regardless of their interest in sports. Additionally, the stadium's state-of-the-art features and impressive architecture can inspire creativity and innovation, while the group setting encourages interaction and collaboration, making it an engaging and enjoyable activity for teams of various sizes and backgrounds

Resources: SoFi Stadium Group Tours


Corporate Volunteering

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Volunteer work serves as an excellent team building activity by uniting employees around a shared, meaningful cause, fostering a sense of purpose and collective accomplishment. It provides opportunities for team members to collaborate in new ways, often revealing hidden strengths and leadership qualities that may not be apparent in the regular work environment. Additionally, engaging in community service can boost morale, enhance the company's reputation, and instill a sense of pride among employees, leading to improved workplace relationships and increased job satisfaction.

Resources: Habitat for Humanity, L.A. Works, VolunteerMatch


Corporate Improv Sessions

Image Source: Improv for the People

A corporate improv class encourages spontaneity, creativity, and quick thinking, skills that are valuable in the workplace. It promotes active listening and collaboration, as participants must work together to create scenes and respond to unexpected situations, fostering better communication and trust among team members. Additionally, the playful and often humorous nature of improv helps break down barriers, reduces stress, and creates a shared positive experience that can improve team morale and cohesion long after the event.

Resources: Improv-LA, Groundlings, Improv for the People

🎬 Paramount and Skydance Are Back On
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Happy Friday Los Angeles! Hope you all had a fantastic Fourth!!

🔦 Spotlight

Paramount and Skydance Media have rekindled talks to merge after negotiations abruptly halted in June. The proposed deal, contingent on approval from Paramount’s board, aims to combine Paramount’s extensive media holdings—including CBS, MTV, and Nickelodeon—with Skydance’s film expertise showcased in hits like "Top Gun: Maverick." This merger signals a potential transformation in the media landscape, positioning the new entity to compete more effectively amid challenges from streaming services and the decline of traditional cable TV.

Led by Shari Redstone, Paramount’s controlling shareholder via National Amusements, the deal represents a pivot towards revitalizing Paramount’s strategic direction amidst financial struggles and shareholder concerns. The involvement of major investors like RedBird Capital Partners and David Ellison underscores the financial backing aimed at stabilizing Paramount’s operations and addressing its $14 billion debt burden. Importantly, the agreement includes provisions to protect National Amusements from potential legal challenges, addressing previous hurdles that stalled earlier negotiations.

The deal also includes a 45-day period for Paramount to explore alternative offers, highlighting continued interest from other potential buyers like Barry Diller’s IAC and media executive Edgar Bronfman Jr. This flurry of activity underscores the significant stakeholders’ interest in Paramount’s future and its potential as a key player in a rapidly evolving media industry.


🤝 Venture Deals

LA Companies

  • Sidecar Health, a startup that offers personalized health insurance plans to businesses that allow members to see any doctor and pay directly at the time of service, raised a $165M Series D led by Koch Disruptive Technologies. - learn more

LA Venture Funds


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