Dr. David Wachira's experience as an immigrant in the United States highlights the challenges many foreign nationals face when trying to access banking and other financial services in the U.S. As a co-founder of FinTech startup Waya, he and his team have dedicated themselves to addressing issues around financial inclusion in underserved communities.
Dr. Wachira moved from Kenya to the United States to study political science at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in Texas. He received a Presidential Scholarship that included a stipend for living expenses. However, he needed to open a bank account to access his stipend and get paid for his on-campus student job. Unfortunately, the local bank refused to let him open an account, as he lacked a social security number. After a significant wait time, Dr. Wachira eventually obtained an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN), which allowed him to open an account. Following that, it still took him years to establish enough credit to avoid paying extra deposits to set up utilities or rent an apartment.
This experience stayed in the back of David’s mind as he went on to earn his Ph.D. and work for the World Bank in Washington, D.C. In 2019, he was ready to tackle this problem by launching an immigrant-focused neobank. He teamed up with Hempstone Maroria, a Kenyan-born and U.S.-based entrepreneur and software engineer who had also had significant challenges accessing financial and banking services as a foreign-born national in the United States. Their shared experiences helped them to identify the gaps in the current financial system and motivated them to create a solution that would unlock financial opportunities and benefit other immigrants and underserved communities.
In the early stages of their startup journey, Waya participated in IBM's Hyper Protect Accelerator program. Through this program, they explored different ways of achieving their mission. After much consideration and brainstorming, they decided to build a product that would enable immigrants and other underserved communities to better access financial services in the United States.
With this goal in mind, the team set out to develop Waya, an app that simplifies the process of opening a bank account. The app is designed to allow anyone to open a bank account within minutes. David and Hempstone understood that the traditional bank account opening process often involves lengthy paperwork and complicated procedures. They wanted to eliminate these barriers and create a product that would make banking accessible to everyone.
Waya's user-friendly interface ensures that the process of opening a bank account is as easy as downloading an app. Users go through a digital onboarding process, where they provide their KYC (Know Your Customer) information on the Waya App. Additionally, the app ensures the safety and security of users' personal information, which is a significant concern for many when opening a bank account.
The Waya App offers a banking experience that is accessible to immigrants who are new to the U.S. banking system, and supports them in achieving their financial goals. It provides an easy way to access banking services, allowing users to receive and spend their paychecks and other direct deposits. Users can set up checking and savings accounts, spend money via a linked debit card, and move money via ACH transfers and P2P transfers within the Waya network. Additionally, users can send cross-border remittances directly from their bank account in the Waya app. Importantly, bank accounts can be opened in three to five minutes, and there are no overdraft fees or minimum deposit requirements for checking accounts.
Working with Synctera
When the Waya team first set out to build the Waya app, they quickly decided that building with a Banking as a Service (BaaS) platform would be the fastest and most cost-effective option for them. They explored several platforms and were impressed by Synctera’s flexibility, responsiveness, and pricing transparency, relative to other BaaS providers. They were also impressed by the completeness of the Synctera platform and the fact that they wouldn’t need to integrate with additional vendors to achieve their product vision.
“The Synctera platform had everything we needed to build a banking app that would provide better access to financial services for immigrant communities in the United States. The completeness of their BaaS platform enabled us to build a feature-rich banking app without having to source and integrate with multiple vendors, saving us time and money.”
- Hempstone Maroria, Co-founder and CTO, Waya
The Synctera team worked closely with Waya to create a solution that would allow Waya to launch a feature-rich first version of their app, with bank accounts, a debit card, money transfers, and remittances. All of the services required to support these features, including ledgering, transaction processing, KYC, fraud management, anti-money laundering, and more were provided by the Synctera platform.
After solutioning, Synctera shepherded Waya through the entire process of building and launching banking. Synctera’s Risk and Compliance team helped Waya to prepare to undergo due diligence by potential sponsor banks and to match with a compatible sponsor bank partner. Synctera’s Implementation and Onboarding team assisted Waya with integrating with Synctera’s APIs, setting up their accounts at their sponsor bank, building up their risk and compliance program, and completing various other tasks required for launch.
Waya unveiled their app in Washington, D.C. in September 2022 and initiated a private beta soon after with a full market rollout in progress.
“The support we received from Synctera in building the Waya App was incredible. The team’s agility and hands-on guidance were invaluable in helping us create a banking app that will allow underserved communities to brighten their financial futures.”
- Dr. David Wachira, Co-founder and CEO, Waya
The road ahead
While Waya isn’t the first company to target underserved communities, other FinTechs tend to focus on more tech-savvy segments. In contrast, Waya aims to serve segments that face structural barriers to accessing banking - and to provide comprehensive financial services to them. For example, the Waya App enables better access to banking for immigrants, and it goes way beyond the remittance services that other immigrant-focused FinTechs tend to offer.
In time, Waya plans to add additional services such as a credit-builder credit card and lending, as well as expand to other underserved segments, such as foreign nationals working temporarily in the U.S. Waya believes that by first focusing on making it easier for underserved communities to open bank accounts, will allow them to create a cascade of other financial services to solve additional challenges faced by these communities.
Experience the Waya app by downloading it today from www.getwaya.com.