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02/12/2020
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Fintech And Unbanked Musicians: How The Right Product Can Build Real Trust With Cash-Reliant Communities

Fintech, if you build it right, can reach people unreachable by traditional banks, according to DeCarlos Garrison, Co-Founder of BandPay. It has the flexibility to meet people where they are, on their phones, on a bus, say, and give them what they need. It can fill major gaps in financial services and support, not just by shaking up established players but by rolling out targeted, specialized services.

The music business is the perfect example of an underserved community ready to embrace the right kind of fintech innovation. Musicians are notoriously unbanked, poorly served by traditional financial institutions. My own career involved way too many cash transactions, and by that I mean sticking huge quantities of cash in a box and overnighting it. The cash-only nature of the business – from what musicians get “from the door” at a club to what they pay each other for work in the studio – leads to serious problems. Musicians get stiffed regularly and sadly stiff each other regularly. The cash they carry can put them and their teams in harm’s way, leading to misunderstandings, physical disputes, and legal troubles.

The reliance on cash isn’t by choice. Musicians and other music-related professionals want financial services; they just need something that fits how their business works. Any business that runs this way has clearly been let down by more traditional banking establishments. Musicians’ struggles can show where innovation can happen, and how unbanked communities see better results when given the right tech tools to manage their financial lives.

The gap between what musicians need and what traditional financial institutions have provided opens up the moment you decide to go pro as an artist. If you want to start a business, you can go to a bank and often get a loan to help you set up an office or buy essential equipment. Unless you have a massive recording catalog or proof of revenue as an already established musician, you can’t leverage your music-related business plans. For artists or other entrepreneurs who need funds or a loan, it’s all based on your personal credit. Music isn’t seen as something that makes money.

We can’t blame it all on banks, of course. Artists have struggled to focus on the business side of what they do. That makes perfect sense; as an artist, you just focus on art, on creativity. With all the changes in the music business, however, it can’t be that way anymore, and no one should do it “for the love”. Musicians are creating content, and there’s value there.

This value lets us put a price on music and begin to bring musicians into the financial fold. Ideally, we’d have one central toolkit or system to help artists with what they want to accomplish, something that would bring in elements of payroll, analytics, inventory for band merchandise, and non-predatory microloans based on predicted future revenues from recordings and publishing. This one-stop tool has to do all this, all while working seamlessly on a smartphone.

To build this, and to build trust with what has long been a cash-centric community, we need to start simply, with transactions. The most common transactions happen between collaborators, meaning artists and other artists – like when Gucci Mane rolls into the studio to drop a few verses for a feature – or creatives, be they mastering engineers or social media gurus.

Musicians, like a lot of other communities operating outside traditional banking, are using payment apps for these transactions, but there’s more tech could offer to bring more artists into the financial fold. Sending virtual payments is fine, but creating a framework for payment connected to specific project milestones, for example, is better tailored to the community’s needs and helps inspire more trust to the wary, cash-reliant musicians out there.

When you can see your collaborator has the funds to pay you, and you know exactly when and how these funds will be unlocked as the project evolves, you have more bandwidth to be creative and you are likely to see your financial relationships in a new light. You also have more ability to work through the inevitable tensions that can come with creative projects. The expectations are there in black and white – and so are the incentives.

Trust is a major factor in connecting with the unbanked, and musicians are no exception. Products that reflect their real concerns, that support their activities in meaningful ways yet remain simple, transparent, and mobile, can encourage this trust. New financial approaches powered by tech check all these boxes, and promise to offer new financial security and support to those sick of carrying around stacks of bills.

By DeCarlos Garrison, Co-Founder of BandPay.

Follow BandPay on LinkedIn and Twitter.