Innovation for Inclusion: MoCaFi’s Vision with CEO Wole Coaxum

Episode 2

In this episode of Social Currency, we sit down with Wole Coaxum, CEO and Founder of Mobility Capital Finance (MoCaFi,) to explore his journey from financial services to social entrepreneurship.

Discover how MoCaFi is expanding access to financial resources for underbanked individuals via a cost-effective technology pilot program in New York City distributing pre-paid immediate response cards to asylum seekers.

Learn how Wole envisions scaling similar programs to help the unbanked and underbanked while creating efficiencies for other local economies.

A headshot of Wole Coaxum

Featured Guest: Wole Coaxum

In 2014, as Ferguson, Missouri, erupted in protests following the shooting death of an unarmed Black teenager, Wole Coaxum, an Oxford-educated African American financial executive, sat in his office at a Fortune 100 company and considered ways to close the economic gap.

Two years later, he launched Mobility Capital Finance, Inc., or MoCaFi, as a digital banking platform that would target the more than 50 million unbanked and underbanked people living in the country.

By 2020, the platform had enrolled more than 25,000 users, raised millions in seed rounds, and partnered with major multinational companies in addition to several cities and municipalities. That same year, as MoCaFi unveiled an upgraded platform, Wole was featured in the New York Times business section as “Trying to Correct Banking’s Racial Imbalance.”

Most recently, MoCaFi was listed on the Forbes Fintech 50, Most Innovative Fintech Companies of 2021. Forbes also featured Wole in a story, “Ex-JPMorgan Chase Exec Has a Plan to Narrow Racial Wealth Gap in Every Major U.S. City,” which highlighted MoCaFi’s innovative financial-services-as infrastructure platform for municipalities and organizations.

Before starting MoCaFi in 2016, Wole served as Managing Director at JPMorgan Chase, where he held a series of leadership positions in Business Banking, Card Services, and Treasury & Securities Services. Before joining JPMorgan in 2007, Wole was a senior executive of Willis Towers Watson. He served as Chief Financial Officer & Chief Operating Officer of Willis North America and Chief Executive Officer of Willis Canada. He started his career at Citigroup, working in investment banking, asset management, insurance, and corporate functions. Wole has been recognized for his consistent track record of developing and implementing a broad array of high-impact and strategic initiatives which achieve measurable results.

Wole currently serves as a Trustee of Phillips Exeter Academy and a board member of the Roosevelt Institute.

Wole has a Master of Business Administration degree with a concentration in Finance from New York University, a Bachelor of Arts degree with a major in History from Williams College, and studied Politics, Philosophy, and Economics at Exeter College, Oxford University.

Wole lives in Westchester County, N.Y., with his wife Kim and their two daughters Quinn and Avery.

Episode Transcript

0:02 Hello and welcome to Social Currency, Powered by Sunrise Banks, a podcast about the most innovative change makers in finance, technology and ESG and how they, our guests, are dismantling barriers and reshaping their industries and maybe even ours too.

0:16 I’m Tyler Seydel and I’m Eric Schurr.

0:19 Here we speak to those driving positive change through social entrepreneurship from cutting edge technology to creative grassroots efforts.

0:27 Each episode seeks to reveal the stories behind the revolution that is propelling us toward a world of financial inclusivity.

0:36 Hello everybody.

0:38 I ‘m your host, Eric Schurr and today I’m thrilled to have on the pod.

0:42 One of the most inspiring visionaries focused on creating opportunities for financial equity that I know Mr. Wole Coaxum. Wole is the CEO and founder of Mobility Capital Finance, otherwise known as MoCaFi, a financial technology company working to provide resources and tools to those who are unbanked or underbanked.

1:02 He’s been at the helm since 2015 after spending years in various financial services and banking worlds.

1:07 Wole.

1:08 Welcome to social currency.

1:10 Thank you very much, Eric.

1:12 It’s a delight to be here.

1:13 We’re happy that you’re here today.

1:15 Thank you first.

1:16 You know, I’d like to ask our listeners to understand what MoCaFi does and why can you talk to me about your personal journey, the observations you made and the motivation that led you to found MoCaFi.

1:30 So I was very fortunate my career to work in financial services for some very successful companies and firms.

1:39 So I started my career at a small little company you may have heard of, which is Commercial Credit, Baltimore Maryland and that company over the time that I was there, evolved into a Citigroup.

1:51 And I was fortunate enough to be a part.

1:53 I was a, I was a junior person that senior people like to have around and I was able to see how they were able to build that company.

2:03 And after that had a chance to learn how to manage at scale.

2:08 And I went into the insurance brokerage business and it’s a company called Willis and was the chief operating officer of North America and then the CEO of Willis Canada and, and the banking, my bank roots were calling me and I and I joined the many people who were part of the Citigroup story and joined JP Morgan and spent the next nine years or so there learning and running treasury services sales at a national level for large and upper middle market companies that I was the head of commercial card sales and relationship management globally.

2:41 And then I was the number two guy in business banking, nationally focused on sales and had all the bankers and customers responsible reporting to me.

2:52 And so I was very fortunate in my career to be in a in spaces where we were talking a lot about underserved communities, particularly in the, when I was running sales and business banking.

3:06 Thinking about how do you ensure that business growth and business creation was happening and how could chase be a part of that?

3:15 And then I had my George Floyd moment after the death of Michael Brown where I was in my office, sort of thinking about the images that I’ve seen on television in Ferguson where you had people who were, you know, in pain in that community and they had gone to the streets and the protests that were there reminded me of that wonderful documentary about the civil rights movement called The Eyes On The Price.

3:46 And I was looking at the images in 2014 and thinking about the images from the eyes on the Prize film.

3:53 And I said, you know, we 2014 and it looks a lot like 1968.

3:58 And as a community, the black community is in, is struggling that time in the same way it was.

4:06 And we had made a lot of progress and I wanted to how figure out how I could use my time and talents to address that issue.

4:14 And decided to start MoCaFi.

4:16 And I was fortunate enough to have mentors and friends who encouraged me to do so.

4:21 They said, you know, well, they’ve got this experience in financial services.

4:24 Why don’t you take those time that your time and talent to come up with a new model?

4:29 And that’s how MoCaFi was, was founded.

4:32 And with the idea of while I was inspired by what happened in Ferguson, it really, our goal is to help all communities who are underserved from a financial perspective or don’t have access to political capital, social capital, or economic capital.

4:47 And how can we use our platform to move people through a journey where they’re able to start to build wealth and preserve them.

4:57 We’ve known each other for about five years now and I am always energized when I get to speak to you and your staff because you guys tend to see the world through a slightly different lens.

5:08 Can, can you talk to me about how you the lens you look through to find these opportunities where you can create impact. That’s what’s become clear for us over time is that it takes important players like sunrise with your lens to move things forward and it does take players like MoCaFi with our lens.

5:32 And we’re fortunate enough to be able to have sunrise as an important partner in our product delivery.

5:39 as you are our sponsor bank but what we’ve been able to identify in our journey is there are communities that have resources, whether it’s cities, counties, states, the federal government, but they need to get to folks who do not have bank accounts who may be under underbanked.

6:02 And oftentimes those resources don’t get to individuals because the individuals don’t have bank accounts.

6:09 And as a result, the cities or the counties of the municipality is sub optimizing, not just the fact that the money is not getting out, but the, it’s sub optimizing in terms of making the communities healthier and stronger.

6:23 And the pandemic really brought this to life for us or to life for us.

6:28 I should say in terms of whether it was PPP dollars or other stimulus checks were getting, were sometimes not getting the most vulnerable amongst us because they were in the form of check and we were able to take the platform that we were building with you and in conversation with mayors in particular, be able to sort of evolve our offering in such a way.

6:55 It says, hey, if you’ve got resources for vulnerable people who may not have bank accounts, we can provide services that can make that really efficient for you and give you better reporting, better controls, reduce your cost because you know, checks as you know, are very expensive.

7:12 And we’ve been talking about the demise of the check for a long time and yet it’s still is very much a part of how money moves in this country.

7:20 So if we can provide you with that, we can get the dollars and resource out to people more efficiently.

7:27 And what’s really special is those individuals who are receiving those in those resources are the actual individuals we’d like as customers.

7:35 So we have another set of products and services that we can provide to those individuals that can bring them into the financial ecosystem through a demand deposit account in a low-cost responsible way.

7:48 And because we want that individual as a customer, that lens drives our innovation with the cities and it becomes a very virtuous circle.

8:00 And it’s interesting, 80% of the bank branches that have closed in this country have been in low- and moderate-income communities.

8:08 And if that being the case, it’s, that’s leaving a void in terms of banking services for people.

8:17 And once we, because our lens is focused on where that void exists, we’re seeing what other people don’t see and it’s no one’s fault.

8:24 I think it’s really a result of business models need the ability to scale at low cost and a branch based banking system.

8:35 It’s hard to scale in communities that often have more month than money.

8:40 But for us, that’s a great opportunity.

8:42 We want that customer and, and that, and let’s do that lens that we are, we’re able to see opportunity.

8:47 Sure. Thank you.

8:48 So point you made earlier and you talked about the communities you’re serving, not necessarily having the social and political capital.

8:55 I think, I think economic capital comes follows from those two and maybe for purposes of this, of this discussion, do you find yourself in your conversations with mayors?

9:07 Being that, that torch bearer, if you will to present something to, to help communities gain that social and political capital.

9:15 I do you find yourself speaking on behalf of those folks?

9:19 Absolutely.

9:20 We’ve created we, we, we, in fact, we, we find ourselves in two situations.

9:24 One, we are seen as a amplifier of the interest that elected officials have to support those communities, either an amplifier or a tool to support those communities.

9:40 And at the same time, we’re able to bring the voice of the community.

9:43 We wanna serve to the elected officials and provide insights for them as they think through the policy agenda that they want to pursue this to support communities.

9:57 And so, we’ve created something called on our block and the on our block is our community banking initiative where it started where we would go into community groups such as the urban league or we would work in public housing, whether it’s New York or Birmingham or Saint Louis, where we then bring resources such as financial coaches, maybe first time home buying assistant programs.

10:29 We partner with a local bank that is focused on that particular community and bring their resources and make those resources visible to individuals.

10:38 We’d have a little food and a little music and then we would use these as, or, or, or even partners such as Edward Jones who are trying to provide investment services to people.

10:48 And we would then create a space for those individuals to begin to understand what resources are available in their communities.

10:59 So they can buy homes, create investment accounts or open up just basic banking accounts.

11:04 And then we and we do that in partnership with the, with the city.

11:09 some of the programs that they’ve put together.

11:12 And so the recipient of a of an era or a recipient of a universal basic income payment now has all these extra services that we can provide as we try to bring people into the into the financial mainstream.

11:25 So I’d like to get into a recent program.

11:28 MoCaFi is working on in New York City in in Aug on August 5th, 2022.

11:34 The first bus carrying a group of migrants arrived at Port Authority bus terminal at gate 14 and it came from Texas about a year later by September of 23.

11:44 Over 100 and 16,000 migrants had arrived in New York City with over 60,000 remaining in the city shelter system.

11:51 How did you become aware of the need for the city to provide assistance to these migrants.

11:58 So it, it, it, it, it started before the first bus of, of migrants for came to New York City.

12:05 As you rightly point out it actually started when now Mayor Adams was Brooklyn Borough president Adams in 2021 I guess.

12:20 And he was going on a listening tour around the country of different ideas that he would want to make a part of his administration.

12:29 We had set up a program in Los Angeles called the Angelino Connect program, which was basically a disbursement framework and a demand deposit framework that the city launched to get resources to the half a million unbanked Angelenos as well as give those unbanked Angelenos a banking option so they could get into the financial mainstream.

12:56 So we, we, we shared that with Mayor Adams and, and I were at that time, Candidate Adams and when after he heard it, he said, oh, that’s a good idea.

13:04 I want to put that on my agenda when he became Mayor Adams, we connected with his team and the team said, you know, we wanna bring in Los, we’ve done the homework you’ve gotten gold star from, from Los Angeles as a reference.

13:19 We wanna bring what you did in Los Angeles to New York said great.

13:22 So what you learn in working with government is it takes a little bit of time.

13:28 So it took us about, it took us into 2023 to get that program to a place where we’re about to launch it.

13:37 And we were working with the city, we were talking to different city agencies about this infrastructure.

13:43 the dispersement cap capability of being one of them.

13:46 And the team that was responsible for the migrants said, hey, is there an opportunity for us to use this financial plumbing that motif fire building for New York City to solve this problem?

13:59 And, and, and the specific problem that they wanted to solve was with the migrants that are coming in to, to seek asylum in New York City, they go through Roosevelt Hotel, which is just a couple blocks from where we are right now in front of Grand Central Station.

14:18 And they are, it’s, it’s like the 21st century version of Ellis Island.

14:23 And so when people come through the processing to seek asylum, the city identifies individuals, the individuals who are here by themselves and then they also separate them folks who have families and the folks who have families are actually sent to hotels.

14:41 New York City has about 40% of the, the mid tier hotel space where, where this where these families stay for a 28 day period of time as they get ready for more permanent housing and meals are being delivered to those households every three days, prepared meals.

14:58 And that costs anywhere from 25 to $30.35 dollars a day per person and the thought process was, hey, what if we’re able to get out of the meal delivery business?

15:10 And it actually gives people a debit card that is restricted.

15:15 So they can only purchase food and baby supplies, that will say, and that will save the city anywhere from 10 to $20 per person per day.

15:28 It will also allow the individuals to select the food that’s appropriate for them based on food that they like to eat, their culture and other considerations.

15:42 And at the same time, it allows for those dollars to be invested directly in local communities.

15:49 And that was a, a win all the way around.

15:52 And so we went through the process of building that in infrastructure, going through the appropriate contracting process.

16:01 The expectation is we started as a pilot with 500 families, it’s so far, touch wood, it’s getting off to a good start.

16:10 I was just actually spent Wednesday there and I’ll be there over the weekend handing out cards and we’re seeing the ability to have real economic impact while saving the city money.

16:22 And what’s great is while we’ve been focused on the asylum seekers, it’s a program that could help all New Yorkers in terms of getting resources to the elderly, the homeless, foster youth, returning citizens.

16:36 But this is the, the the first use case and the other thing that I’m really excited about and this wouldn’t be possible without our terrific partnership with sunrise banks is we can take an individual who is receiving this benefit.

16:52 And oh, by the way, we used wick and snap as the standard to figure out how much money someone should get.

17:01 And they, and they get on average.

17:03 It’s about if it’s a family of four, it’s about 1214 $100.

17:07 over the 28-day period, we can then say we could be your first demand deposit account.

17:12 We have the ability to open up accounts for undocumented people.

17:15 We do the KYC appropriately and now we’re taking a group of people, we have the opportunity to take a group of people who are coming to this country to build their, their, their lives and, and move themselves forward and not then turn them over and say, well, we’re gonna go immediately into the unbanked population which just exacerbates the problem and exacerbates the cost of being here.

17:37 But we can now responsibly bring them into the digital economy and start to build a more robust and safer community.

17:44 And and I’m just very pleased and appreciative of our partnership that allows us to bring the newest arrivals in this country into the financial system in a responsible way.

17:59 Yeah, it’s so, it’s so inspiring, you know, we, you and I were, were together last October and you were giving this, this idea was was really taking shape, I think with, with you and your staff and you know, it was so interesting for us to to be there and hear how, how you were thinking through the conceptually how this was going to work and the issues that you were looking to, to resolve there, you touched upon the program in Los Angeles a little bit earlier.

18:25 So you have Los Angeles, you have New York, these are I say slightly different use cases but to the same ends.

18:32 Do you see, where do you see a demand for similar programs like this to provide community and individual impact, to lift, to lift those citizens in those communities?

18:46 Yeah, I, I think  it’s universal, quite frankly, it’s just our ability to, to get the story out to as many people as possible and then go through the contracting process.

18:59 But to specifically answer a question if you are, regardless of your political view, an elected official who has responsibility for taking care of all your residents.

19:13 It, you’re thinking holistically in terms of how I might be able to do that.

19:19 And, and, and, and, and there are a lot of federal resources that go to the States and then ultimately to the cities and, or to the counties that need to be allocated.

19:29 And we’re seeing time and time again the instance where figuring out how to get those resources to people responsibly and safely and s and, and efficiently is something that, that, that resonates.

19:44 I’ll give you a couple examples.

19:45 So, one is actually right there in Minnesota where we have, we’re working with Olmsted County and Olmstead County has a program where there are individuals in Olmsted County who, are not in a position to take care of themselves financially.

20:01 And so this county is receiving that individual’s federal benefits.

20:06 Maybe it’s VA benefits, maybe it’s Social Security.

20:10 And historically, what they would do is they would give them an allowance on either via check or via gift card.

20:18 And we’ve been able to change the game on that where individuals now are receiving one of our accounts and the city and the county, excuse me, is able to provide resources to that individual, provide them a budget, give them spending cash if you will, so they can live their lives responsibly and it could be done on a very efficient basis, which again is made the county more efficient, the customer has a better experience or the individual has a better experience and the, and the community is stronger.

20:47 Give you another example.

20:49 We’ve built AAA product based on some of the things we’ve done with the asylum seekers.

20:56 And we’ve just, we’ve got a proposal out in this city in Texas where they’re like, hey, if somebody is ever impacted by fire or a natural disaster, we would like the ability to get resources to that individual immediately and ensure that they have the, the money that they need to get shelter or to buy food or to get transportation.

21:21 And so now we’ve got this ability to provide them with a stack of cards and they can also do it virtually and they can fund on a real time basis to wherever they want, have the ability to, to to get resources to people immediately.

21:37 And so it’s, we think it’s a universal problem in terms of the need to get resources to people and who are in a variety of situations.

21:45 And and, and every elected official has a, has an obligation to make sure their, their residents  are looked after and, and we think we can help do that.

21:55 That’s great.

21:55 Thank you.

21:56 Before I let you go today, I have one final question for you will a what, what fuels inspires you outside of work.

22:04 And, you know, it’s interesting and you were very gracious in your introduction of me in this conversation in terms of, you know, the, the, the leadership that, that I brought to this space and, and the work that we’ve done.

22:19 And, and I don’t feel that that’s the case.

22:23 I, I feel that it’s a real privilege to spend my time and talents to be able to get up every morning and try to solve some of these problems.

22:35 And so what inspires me is really the privilege to wake up every day and and try to use the, the time and talents that I’ve got to solve these problems.

22:44 And, and I’m very fortunate as we all are.

22:47 We have rich family histories.

22:48 And my great grandfather was a part of the civil rights movement.

22:56 He was a business person, but he’s used his platform as a way to help make Charleston West Virginia in a more equitable community in the, in, during the 20th century.

23:06 And, and he was a model that I, I was inspired by and one that I try to emulate and, and, and I just find that this platform that I, I’m fortunate enough to be a part of it.

23:20 MoCaFi gives me the opportunity to build up on his legacy and, and others in my family and who, where we’re trying to figure out how to make the, the, the, the world a better place.

23:30 Because if we’re able to create a more equitable community, we all, we all benefit.

23:34 And that’s the legacy that I hope to  leave.

23:37 I often talk about, I’m running my leg of the relay race and trying to strengthen communities and that’s what inspires me so I can leave the place a little bit better than I found it and pass the baton on to the next generation of people who can take this work forward a spirit of service.

23:58 Well, I thank you, thank you so much for joining us today.

24:01 It’s been a pleasure having you on the show.

24:03 Thank you for having me.

24:04 I look forward to it to see you again soon.

24:07 Thank you.

24:08 And that engaging dialogue was powered by Sunrise Banks, Member FDIC.

24:16 Thanks for listening to the Social Currency podcast by Sunrise Banks.

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24:26 We’ll see you soon.