Finnish fintech startup MONI is taking important steps in helping refugees, while preparing for a public launch and for an A round investment. Their successful pilot has grown fast and new ways of solving everyday problems of asylum seekers have been created and put in place in close (and fast!) co-operation with the Finnish government.

From 10 to 3500+ MONI cards

When we covered MONI last December, it had just delivered first ten MONI cards to the piloting refugees. By the New Year the number was 600 cards. Today, just a couple of months later, over 3500 cards have been distributed. That equals to over 10% of annual asylum seekers in Finland having received their cards and using them in their daily life. MONI has made the user interface available also in Arabic. Farsi and Somali are in works.

In addition to receiving the monthly government allowance, refugees can now also receive salary payments on their MONI cards. The startup has been able to reach an agreement with the Finnish Immigration Service (Migri) to experiment with salary payments to existing MONI accounts using Migri’s digital identification system, where vetted and approved Finnish employers can pay salaries to the MONI Prepaid MasterCards given to the refugees. This is a significant step towards integrating the asylum seekers into the Finnish society, as traditional banks will not open accounts for those without passports as they need to “know their customer”. When a refugee has been in Finland for three to six months, he or she is entitled to apply for a work permit, but who would want to hire a person you would have to pay salary in cash?

First salary payment to a MONI card has already been done, and more will follow. Finland’s biggest human resources provider Barona just announced that they have hired three Eritrean workers who after four months wait got their work permits in February. They are first ones of 50 expected participants to join the work program from Luona Oy’s reception centres, where MONI cards are used for salary payments.

“The Finnish Immigration Service launched the prepaid card experiments with MONI last year. We have now tested the card distribution process, sought to understand the risks and the required practice with respect to these new processes. We have been able to verify the assumptions that by using prepaid cards we can build a safer and more cost-effective process. The feedback received from the reception centres has been excellent and extending the experiment to all reception centres is now impatiently expected. We have also tested the salary payment process for the asylum seekers who have gotten jobs and found out that also this process can be done more effectively by means of a prepaid card than it is possible to do now,” says Jouko Salonen from Migri.

Customization

As MONI is using the latest technologies, the account is highly customizable and features can be switched on and off easily. This is important as Migri and Financial Supervisory Authority (FIN-FSA) have set very specific limits on how the refugees can use their accounts. They cannot transfer money outside Finland or make payments to other than Finnish bank accounts or in Finland. Now this kind of customization is virtually impossible for traditional banks, it would take them months or even years to implement such features.

“The refugee solution sets a very challenging environment for banking products since the situation changes all the time and each participant in the project is looking to optimize the process even further. When problems arise, it’s very important for us to be able to react very fast. The micro banking platform that MONI has built from scratch and with the most modern tools allows us to do not only this, but also extremely rapid way to develop new features for the refugees, refugee center employees and immigration service,” said Antti Pennanen, Founder and CEO of MONI.

One major element in integrating into the society is of course ability to work and earn a salary and pay your taxes. The Ministry of Employment and Economy (MEE) estimates that just 10,000 out of over 30,000 refugees will get residency permits.

Startup co-operation

MONI has been discussing with various local startups on how to get things moving faster, as the previously mentioned government ways are not the most fast and agile ways for refugees to enter the job market. Supporting and facilitating micro-entrepreneurship could be they key, and MONI tells us that moppi.com (cleaning services), ukko.fi (freelancer invoicing) and fave.fi (helpers via instant messaging) are very interested to jump in. Payments from all these services can be directed to a MONI account. Surely there are many other startups who could chip in and offer jobs to asylum seekers. If your startup is one of them, let us know in the comments.

“Startup companies working together can find smart solutions re-engineering the refugee situation for everyone’s benefit. The refugees don’t claim asylum, they claim the right to become a contributor to the society and this is what we all want to enable,” said Pennanen.

Small steps

While MONI is ramping things up ahead of their launch to offer MONI card and account services to “normal” users, they have expanded their Advisory Board to include former CitiGroup CTO Yobie Benjamin, Jolla founder Antti Saarnio and OnApp CEO of Retail & Federation Bernino Lind.

‘’I am extremely happy to have these three gentlemen on board. Yobie has a long-running history in banking and he is currently CTO of token.io, a company providing digital payment solutions for banks to comply with the PSD2 regulation, Antti has vast experience in mobile carrier integrations and doing business in emerging markets, and Bernino’s OnApp Federation is the world’s largest cloud with over 170 locations paving the way for the truly decentralised future. Their expertise is invaluable in supporting our growth plans,’‘ said Pennanen.

Also Fortune magazine noted MONI in their latest issue. Rumors are strong that MONI is preparing for an A round investment, so we expect to have more big news from them in the near future.

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