Most Influential Projects 2021

38 Daylight

Daylight Image 1

For listening to LGBTQ+ customers—and then delivering a banking experience for their needs

The global LGBTQ+ community boasts an estimated total household wealth of US$23 trillion, according to LGBT Capital. Yet the financial services industry has created few products tailored to the market’s specific needs. Looking to fill that void, Rob Curtis developed Daylight, a digital platform built on the kind of bespoke specs that can only come to light through conversations with LGBTQ+ consumers. For example, after learning that one of the biggest issues for individuals of transgender experience was having to match the name on their bank cards with their legal ID, the team decided to offer customers Visa-branded cards in their preferred name.

The project was developed as part of Visa’s Fast Track program aimed at assisting startups in scaling fintech innovations. Yet even with all its prep work, the company had to go agile once COVID-19 hit. Not only was it trying to build Daylight with a brand-new, all-virtual team, it also faced slowdowns in government approval. To recover the lost time, the team ran development and design projects in parallel.

What started as a small group of pilot users at launch in November 2020 is now projected to hit 10,000 users by the end of 2021. And Curtis isn’t stopping there—he wants to turn Daylight into the largest LGBTQ+ lifestyle and financial services business in the world.

PM Network talked with Curtis about his project motivation—and how it’s already changing the rules:

What inspired you to create Daylight?
When we spent time looking at the long-term financial outcomes for LGBTQ+ folks, we realized that banks weren’t doing a very good job. There is a significant LGBTQ+ wealth gap. LGBTQ+ people are less likely to use financial products, less likely to take advisory, have lower levels of education. That’s because those things aren’t designed for them. What we did was revolutionary: We started designing for LGBTQ+ folks.

What guided your strategy?
In 2017, I was approached to do a financial turnaround on an LGBTQ+ consumer business that was losing a lot of money. At its core, I had to understand the product and its value. I did that the old-fashioned way, by sitting in chatrooms and watching LGBTQ+ folks talk. I learned that when they get to some of the high-stakes decisions, they have important needs that in some cases are completely unmet.

What’s one banking need that Daylight meets?
Trans people need to be protected at the point of sale, because if you present the wrong gender, you’re often threatened with refusal of service, accusations of criminality and so on. So we disaggregated the person’s legal name from their chosen name. We built that in six weeks, and it meant implementing changes to the system we use for identity verification, to the platforms that our banks use and to the platforms that our middleware partners use. There was a lot of complexity, but we succeeded in building an ecosystem that’s hyper-designed for our community.

You were determined to launch in 2020—even in the middle of a pandemic. How did that impact schedules?
Hitting milestones meant building a lot of things in parallel, and it also informed our vendor decisions. We needed partners that had the right culture to work with us—and it wasn’t just that they needed to be queer-friendly—that’s a minimum. Can they move as fast as us? Are they interested in trying innovative things? From a delivery perspective, it taught me the importance of aligning cultures. When you’re working with partners who are innovators and who are hungry and who are passionate about the same space as you, those relationships can be incredibly powerful.

Why was community interactivity such a priority for Daylight?
One of the innovations that we created was Social Savings. The idea is that we’re a community, so we should help each other out. So every time you set money aside to save for a trip, it’s shared into that community feed, which allows people—in a depersonalized way that maintains the protection and safety of your identity—to cheer you on, to contribute advice and to learn from watching the behaviors of others like you.

In one case, someone created an emergency fund, which is the least sexy thing in finance and something nobody wants to talk about. But because it was role-modeled for our community, about 30 percent of our customers created an emergency fund after watching that one person do it. These social dynamics are allowing us to do peer-to-peer education. There’s never been anything like that in finance before.

Listen to Rob Curtis explain how being an entrepreneur also means being a project leader

What I’ve learned about being a project manager as a founder—I was very much in project and program management very quickly. So I did a lot of large strategic changes, having a sense of what your vision is, where you’re going, what outcomes you’re aiming for, how you measure success—those disciplines are incredibly, incredibly useful in building an entrepreneurship. Over many years, scoping vendor relationships, business requirements, the multidisciplinary nature of being a good project or program manager, as different from say, what I would consider a more process-led project manager, who’s filing reports and moving things around. Like I was always very hands-on, and so it’s an incredibly entrepreneurial role, and I think I took most of those disciplines across because now I know how to recruit, I know how to build teams. We knew how to set objectives, and a lot of those things have just really carried across.

I’d say the big shift for me has been moving away from reporting on progress to reporting on opportunity, because actually my goal as a founder is to sell a vision that is so large, that talks to an opportunity that nobody’s ever seen before. And I think my habit is, “We did 3 percent month-on-month on this, and I am here, from here to here.” Those serve you less well in this type of role when you’re dealing with investors, but I get risk, I understand compliance. The hands-on practical experience that allows me to look at a series of scenarios in front of us and to instinctively know which to prioritize on—because you can put a lot of emotional energy in small scenarios—that contingency modeling, it’s all in here. I think it’s one of the most natural fits to be able to do an entrepreneurial role, because you are doing most of the work in the lead up through project management.