Welcome to ‘RightAngle’ — our series of interviews with mission-driven blockchain projects sharing their angle on their vision, the industry, and more.
For our fifth instalment of the series, our Marketing and Events Manager, Amber McLennan, spoke with Bulent Tekmen, the CEO and Co-Founder of Colendi, a cross-border decentralized credit scoring platform that uses blockchain technology to provide a secure and democratic service for the transforming definition of banking.
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Despite the time difference from Canada to Turkey, Bulent Tekmen jumped into our call, discussing the ongoing South by South West ‘panel picker’ that both Colendi Co-Founder and COO, Mihriban Ersin, and RightMesh CEO, John Lyotier, have been submitted to speak on ‘Combating Global Poverty on the Blockchain’.
For the duration of our call, Bulent and I discussed the mission behind Colendi, how it arose from problems they saw in their own backyard, and how it will be transformative for the unbanked and underbanked.
Amber: Your team has worked on Colendi since 2015; what inspired the concept?
Bulent: After the 2008 economic crash, there were nearly 14 million people in Turkey who did not have bank accounts… if they had anything in their hands it was cash. This was a big problem, as those who wanted to open a bank account to start to build credit were charged exorbitant fees by the banks. They were bleeding the unbanked dry. That is why I started my previous company, Ininal. We were the bank for the unbanked in Turkey. We were able to hit 2.5 million accounts created by those who were previously underserved. In 2016, we made a deal and sold the company.
While working on Ininal, our team learned that almost 72% of the world’s population has either limited credit data or none at all. Many also do not have access to credit or assessment systems.
It became clear to our team that both financial institutions and credibility assessment systems had fallen behind the needs of our quickly globalizing world. For the last 500 years, banks have looked for the three C’s: character, capacity (to repay) and collateral that you can put up. These three C’s have not changed for hundreds of years and hinder those who are unbanked from being able to get credit, loans, and make larger purchases. Colendi was founded to address these inequalities and aid the unbanked and underbanked. Our mission is to bring the digital and accessible means of credit scoring to the entire world.
When we started Colendi, we had a great team with an amazing skill set in banking and transactional services. We focus on decentralized credibility and put everything on the blockchain to align with the GDPR requirements. We wanted to be scalable, borderless — where you could be in any country using anything as a protocol for Colendi’s vision.
Amber: I was looking through your team and noticed you have a number of co-founders, are they from your previous company?
Bulent: Yes, most of them came from my previous company. We knew we could work well together, and it was great that they stuck with me when we decided to start Colendi. We have a number of ‘A plus’ players on our team, and we are all aligned in our desire to make a global impact.
Amber: On the note of creating a global impact, one of the metrics I found shocking from your blog was that 26 million adults in the USA have no credit history. With so many people who are unbanked or lacking access to financial services, what is your target market?
Bulent: Our current focus is building a trusted community of merchants and lenders.
We released our Alpha Product, which includes three key elements: Colendi ID, Colendi Score, and Colendi Wallet. These three elements allow users to create unique accounts, obtain their credit score — based on your social media attestations, and manage their Colendi Tokens (CODs). By building this network of scored users, we will attract and bring on more merchants and lenders to the platform to create a global marketplace.
In turn, this will help build trust in the unbanked who will be able to control and share their credit score shares with an integrated list of merchants that were previously inaccessible.
We are currently forming partnerships with big-name merchants to ease community adoption and have lots of partners from India, Brazil, Mexico, Nigeria and Egypt.
Amber: You mentioned trust; how will Colendi, and blockchain technology, establish trust for those who have been excluded from the financial system for so long?
Bulent: You’re right, there is a lot of trust missing from those underserved, but also those included in financial systems. Events like the Equifax hack, or Cambridge Analytica, although not linked to banking, have become prevalent in mainstream media, causing the individual to question the use of their data by centralized corporations.There is a palatable outrage in how it is being collected and used, and how if you do not share it, you are prevented from participating in the market.
With the unhackable potential of blockchain, where your data belongs to you, it gives the individual back control. The technology is building trust through the vision and protocols from companies like us. That is why Colendi keeps the control of personal information in the hands of our users.
Trust won’t be built overnight, and there are a lot of things yet to be built, but we are on the right track with blockchain technology to address problems of trust that have been previously undiscussed.
Amber: How will Colendi support women in emerging markets?
Bulent: Within a lot of emerging markets, men and women are still not considered equals. Many women do not have bank accounts or credit cards to make purchases for their daily needs and are dependant on their male counterparts. This is a vicious cycle, as those in bad situations are not able to leave due to a lack of financial autonomy.
The World Bank states that access to credit and payment systems “empower[s] women… boosts productive investment and consumption.” That is why Colendi plans to give these underserved women accounts free of charge to help them with them obtain financial freedom.
Amber: As Colendi is targeting those mostly found in emerging markets, who struggle with connectivity issues, does the platform need to be online for the unbanked to access it?
Bulent: To create a Colendi ID and access the platform the user needs to be online. This has been a challenge, as connectivity is needed for user adoption and to help serve those who lack financial inclusion.
That is why we really like RightMesh. The work you are doing to solve accessibility problems is very important. Working together, we can solve these large barriers to entry that so many now face. Both of us are working to solve enormous problems, although we are just scratching the service, it is great to know there are mission driven companies working towards common goals.
As we concluded our call, I felt inspired by the mission of Colendi to bring economic mobility to emerging markets.
At RightMesh, we provide connectivity to regions where there isn’t any, which could help enable Colendi’s mission of banking the unbanked, and thereby decreasing the digital divide. We are excited at the potential of speaking alongside Colendi at the upcoming SXSW 2019.
If you agree that ‘Combating Global Poverty on the Blockchain’ is a valuable, perhaps even critical, public conversation, please go to SXSW Panel Picker and ‘Up Vote’ our proposal.
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