The launch of Cheese, a digital banking platform dedicated to serving Asian American communities, is the latest instance of entrepreneurs seeking to translate a renewed sense of ethnic identity among many Americans into greater financial wellness, if not empowerment, for those in their communities.
“I have always envisioned launching a digital banking platform that someone like me could easily access but also serves a deeper purpose, with the power to positively impact Asian communities,” Cheese CEO Ken Lian said. “Cheese is that banking platform.”
Cheese includes Ifly.vc and Amplify among its chief investors, having raised $3.6 million in seed funding from the two firms in a round that also featured participation from former Wealthfront CEO Adam Nash and Zillow co-founder Spencer Rascoff. As part of the company’s offering, Cheese accountholders get a debit card (issued by Coastal Community Bank), two-day early advance pay with direct deposit, a 3% deposit bonus for referrals, a 0.3% annual percentage yield, and as much as 10% cash back on purchases at more than 10,000 participating merchants.
And as part of its pledge to support Asian American communities, Cheese will donate $100,000 to nonprofit organizations and community service programs that support Asian neighborhoods and small businesses – especially those impacted by COVID-19. Communities in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York City are among the first areas of focus.
The Asian American community is characterized by its diversity and its rapid growth; there are nearly 21 million Asian Americans in the United States. The relatively high income and education levels common in this community compared to other minority communities in the United States makes them an attractive opportunity for providers in financial services – from digital banking to wealth management.
At the same time, the rising number of incidents of violence against Asian Americans in 2021 are reminders that discrimination and racism against Asian Americans continues to be a challenge in a rapidly-diversifying country. In financial services, this issue often manifests itself most acutely with new Asian immigrants who may have language barriers or lack a credit history and struggle to even secure a bank account. Lian, who immigrated to the U.S. from China in 2008, knows this problem well.
“I had been declined multiple times for basic bank accounts,” Lian said, “even with an 800+ FICO score.”
Cheese is headquartered in Pasadena, California. The company was founded in 2019.