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By Borrower Stories

Roberto Romeo – Michiko Studios – Giving Local Artists a Place to Create

Finding the space to create

While New York City is overflowing with artists and creatives, one thing the city is always short on is space. This is especially true for musicians who need rehearsal spaces that are both affordable and acoustically sound. That’s where Roberto Romeo (pictured) saw a tremendous opportunity to expand his small business and support the community of local musicians. Read More

By CNote

Redesigning Finance in Detroit

An hour before my hotel alarm goes off, I’m thrown awake by a chorus of hammers, trucks and drills from the construction outside. Where am I? Right, Detroit. The city of a legendary decline and an even more legendary revival. I’ve heard enough “dark” stories to shape my groggy and not so pleasant image of this city – but it’s an image that will be shattered in just a few days.

About a month ago, CNote was invited to participate in the FinTech program sponsored by Village Capital and Paypal. The program focuses on supporting entrepreneurs creating innovative financial solutions for underserved communities and small businesses. It is in a perfect alignment with CNote and I was  excited for the opportunity to learn from other companies sharing a common mission to democratize finance. Detroit was chosen as a destination for the first program workshop. First skeptical of the choice, once we got there, it became clear why Detroit. On the way from the airport, we passed by urban farms – huge white greenhouses in once deserted parking lots at the borderline of downtown Detroit. Not exactly what I pictured about the city in dismay – I was intrigued.

compressed vilcap_1The next four days we spent together with other 11 companies, learning about the big problems each of us are solving, about huge numbers of underserved individuals and businesses seeking access to basic financial services, and solutions our companies are designing to correct the inequality. To say that it was inspiring is like saying Steve Jobs was just another businessman – each day after hours of intense discussions, hard questions, personal stories about what drives us and why we won’t stop, we left even more energized to work on what could change in the lives of millions.These are people who have been largely ignored by a massive unfeeling financial industry And yes, we are talking about millions…millions who don’t understand what they get charged in their medical costs, millions who can’t drive because they can’t get the car insurance, millions who don’t have emergency funds saved to start their lives after an earthquake, millions whose houses get damaged in the hurricanes, millions who are behind their financial goals, millions who don’t get access to capital to start their business, millions who became a victim of online fraud, millions who can’t pay expenses for the their families in their home countries…These are not just millions, but millions of individuals with their own goals, aspirations, desires, needs which must be respected and met no different from others who are more privileged. And that’s why Village Capital and PayPal brought us together in Detroit to help build the tools that will serve these faceless millions who have been overlooked too long.

As we were getting deeper and deeper into conversations about how broken the existing financial system is, and ways we intend to rebuild it to serve people and to proclaim financial inclusion and financial freedom, I suddenly had an “aha” moment – how symbolic it is to have these discussions in Detroit, the city that was brought down to its knees by human greed, the city that is being brought back to life by human faith, creativity and altruism. It takes a community to rebuild the city, so as the financial system. We could not be in a better company than 11 others in the Village Capital program. We at CNote are excited for what is to come, we hope you are too!

By Borrower Stories

Fany Gerson – La Newyorkina – Seeing Opportunity When Others See a Challenge

Community Lender Helps Entrepreneur Grow Her Business

La Newyorkina is a place for handmade Mexican ice cream, paletas (ice pops), chamoyadas & other treats. It is also a fan favorite all around New York City. La Newyorkina is known for using unique flavors, fruits, and ingredients in its colorful paletas (Mexican popsicles). The journey to small business success wasn’t always sweet, but this story highlights just how integral a role community lenders can play in helping small businesses succeed, and the positive impact these loans can have on the communities they serve.
Read More

By CNote

CNote selected to participate in Village Capital FinTech program

Program-Tiles60We are humbled and proud to share that CNote has been selected to participate in the Village Capital FinTech program. This program, co-sponsored by PayPal and Village Capital, is on a mission to help create “accessible, efficient, and affordable financial services for underserved communities and small businesses.” Such recognition does come with a responsibility to continue what we started – democratizing finance, generating higher returns for everyone, and helping to build and fund underserved communities and entrepreneurs

CNote is one of twelve companies that were selected to participate, each of them “addresses true pain points in the current financial system or intends to expand their services to fill those gaps.” Peer learning and sharing is what makes Village Capital program especially unique and there is certainly a lot to learn from other courageous and inspiring fellow entrepreneurs. To complement, all companies will also receive support and input from member organizations including PayPal, BlackRock, Access Ventures and Village Capital. It truly takes a village to build what people need. 

The CNote team is excited about the opportunity this invitation presents and looks forward to spreading the word about our mission to generate higher returns for our customers while making a positive social impact. Stay tuned for the updates about the program progress, our learnings and “a-ha’s”.

You can read more about the Village Capital FinTech program here and here, and read more about CNote and our mission, here.

 

By CNote

The Pig & The Penny

business-money-pink-coins

Did you grow up with a piggy bank? You know, the pink kind that smiles end to end as you proudly plop each copper penny into its thin slat? Plunk. Plink, plink.

Yep, me too.

But, what I’ve come to realize is the psychology behind that little pig is much broader than I thought. To me, that piggy bank was the first representation of “savings” – or the idea of storing money for another day. As a kid, it could sometimes feel like torture, waiting endlessly for that 50 cents to grow to $5 so I could finally buy that special toy. As a teenager, it started to feel like power, where I didn’t have to ask my parents for every purchase. As a grown adult, it feels like safety, knowing that despite the uncertainties of our world today, I’ve got some cash on hand to handles life’s bumps and cool opportunities.

But along that journey, something interesting happened in my mid-twenties. The concept of savings and that piggy bank started to change. It’s when I was informed that dollars in my savings are not just supposed to sit and collect dust – they are actually supposed to work for you while you sleep. Huh?

Then my dad explained to me what actually happens to my savings when it’s in a bank. Despite my fairytale impression that my dollars were sleeping soundly in a big silver vault protected by Vin Diesel, the truth is the complete opposite. My savings dollars – and yours – don’t stay in a big vault at all, but rather get lent out to other people by the bank. This is how the bank “puts the money to work.” It takes my $100 as a “savings deposit” and then loans that $100 to someone else in the form of a home mortgage, credit card or simply buys other investments with it like treasury notes.

What happens next? Oh.. you’ll love this part. The bank then earns money off of our money and returns a portion (and I mean less than 1%) of that earned money back to us – the savers. So when you look at your bank account and see the word “interest” that’s code for:

“Of the money we make off you, here’s how much we’re going to give back to you. Love, Your bank.”

And here’s where the concept of CNote was born. We think, if our money is being used anyway, why not a) give the savers more of those earnings (ie. interest) and b) why not put those dollars to use for good things we care about (ie. supporting local businesses, non-profit, low-income community development, etc).

Sound crazy? Nope.

We think it’s high time we revisited this esoteric concept of “savings” and how the trillions of dollars out there currently don’t go to work  for us and our communities, but for the big banks. It’s time to take back our savings and put it to work in ways that drive more earnings for good savers and more goodness for our communities.

CNote is making this happen, every day, by working with inspiring community lenders that are not only certified by the Treasury Department, but have a proven track record of delivering solid financial performance and incredible social impact. It’s how we bring great earnings and impact to everyone.

Tell that childhood piggy bank to stand back. Change is a comin’.

– Cat Berman, Co-founder

By CNote

Echoing Green – Social Impact Talent Report

w6USRvOUWe’re proud to announce that our founders Cat Berman and Yuliya Tarasava have been selected for consideration for the Echoing Green Fellowship. Each year Echoing Green evaluates thousands of applicants and roughly only 1% of applicants are selected. Congratulations are in order for Cat and Yuliya, who are working to democratize and simplify finance through CNote. The two will travel to New York for interviews and could be selected as finalists for the “Echoing Green Fellowships – [a] two year immersive leadership development program that provides seed-funding and hands-on support, and embeds them in the Echoing Green network.”

Echoing Green is a truly remarkable organization that “identifies tomorrow’s transformational leaders today.” Echoing Green works to find extraordinary individuals, who have influential ideas and original solutions. “We unite this diverse group of innovators, instigators, pioneers, and rebels to form a fellowship of passionate, global leaders. With access to funding, grants, and strategic foundational support, we can accelerate the positive vision these leaders have for the world.”

These leaders are true change makers dedicated to “transforming their communities, addressing economic development, racial and gender equity, environmental sustainability, and more.”

CNote is honored to be considered for such a high recognition. Our  focus on financial freedom and equality is aligned with Echoing Green’s mission, and we look forward to seeing how this opportunity develops.

By CNote

CNote Wins SXSW Super Accelerator Pitch Competition

Super-Accelerator-CNote-1440x810We’re proud to announce that we are coming back from SXSW with two awards!

Just yesterday, CNote was selected the Top Innovation in the the Payment and FinTech category and today CNote emerged as a winner among all categories:

CNote was chosen as the 2017 Best Startup Pitch Company after besting ten of the best companies during the first SXSW Super Accelerator Pitch Competition on Monday, March 13.

Our team is looking to take this momentum into the coming months as we support our initial product launch and work to make our first product offering broadly available to everyone. We’ve got a lot of exciting news ahead!

You can learn more about CNote and our mission here. Also, feel free to contact our team with any questions at support@mycnote.com.

A huge thanks to everyone that helped support the SXSW event and best of luck to all the amazing teams and entrepreneurs we had the pleasure of meeting and sharing ideas with in Austin.

By CNote

CNote Wins Payment and FinTech group at the 2017 SXSW Accelerator

Accelerator-Pitch-Hannah-Edelman-640x360We are beyond excited to announce that CNote was selected as the winner out of a group of five great finalists in the Payment and FinTech Technologies group at SXSW. Every company deserved such a high recognition, but we are thrilled that our that our message resonated with the audience at SXSW and we are the taking “The Top Innovation” award home.

This recognition is an important reminder that there is room to innovate in the financial space, especially as it relates to maximizing individual and societal wealth. CNote makes products that simplify and democratize finance. We focus on inclusivity, integrity and community when creating every financial product we bring to market.

You can learn more about CNote and our mission here. Also, feel free to contact our team with any questions at support@mycnote.com.

By CDFIs

Why haven’t I heard of CDFIs before?

CDFIs are a tough acronym to remember. We get it. It stands for Community Development Financial Institutions – yet another mouthful. We think the easiest way to describe them is – lenders for the community.

So..say you have a dream of opening up your own business. You have the drive, a great idea, and all you need is to borrow a few bucks to get it going or keep it going. Unfortunately, your options are not so great.

Sorry to break the news, but not all lenders are the same and the online lenders you’ve heard of typically charge small businesses 6 to 7x more than large banks to access money. Yup.

But wait, this is where CDFIs come in! They provide small businesses fair capital and business coaching. And on top of that, they focus on segments like women and minorities that typically get ignored or rejected by major financial institutions.

So now you’re going: COOL! But why haven’t I heard of them before?

Don’t worry, you haven’t missed the latest fintech trend. The most financially savvy among us haven’t heard of CDFIs.

CDFIs have been around for over 20 years, but have mostly been working with banks and foundations. Their gig wasn’t to approach us – the everyday saver. A few more reasons you haven’t heard of them:

  • Marketing. CDFIs are awesome at fair and responsible lending. But most of them are non-profits and don’t have the large and expensive marketing budget to get the word out about their good work. Likely the best promotion CDFIs have received was through the Starbucks and Opportunity Finance Network partnership to launch Create Jobs for USA campaign started by Howard Schultz. You may have been one of the hundreds of thousands of individuals who contributed a total of $3.5 million to the successful campaign.
  • Access. Most CDFIs are set up to take in large dollar amounts from banks and foundations, not small dollar amounts from you and me. So if you called up a CDFI with your $25 check, it would be a tough road to navigate.
  • Understanding. There are over 1,000 CDFIs across the country. Folks just learning about CDFIs love their social mission, but can find it overwhelming in terms of which CDFI to work with and why. This is a key problem CNote is solving for.

So now you know. CDFIs are awesome, dedicated and doing great work every day. And CNote is excited to bring you and them together to create an incredible economic impact. That means more money and more jobs for women and minorities. It means more investment vehicles that represent your voice and your values. It means finally – finance we can be proud of.

– Cat Berman, Co-founder

By CNote

CNote selected to be SXSW Accelerator Finalist

sxsw17-1200x1200-1132x670We’re proud to announce that CNote has been selected as a finalist for this year’s South by Southwest Accelerator Pitch event. CNote is one of five payment and FinTech companies selected for the pitch event. We’re excited to share our vision for creating accessible financial products that maximize individual and societal wealth with the “future curious” audience of SXSW. 

The pitch event will be held over two days, Saturday, March 11 and Sunday, March 12 at the Hilton Hotel in downtown Austin. If you’re a fan of CNote, or just a fan of seeing innovative companies deliver their message, we recommend checking it out.

All the selected finalists will pitch Saturday and then 18 companies will move on and pitch again one more time on Sunday. You can view the list of all invited companies, including CNote, here.

We’re thrilled to be on the stage with amazing entrepreneurs inspired to change the world and grateful to SXSW for the opportunity to share our mission for redesigning finance.  You can learn more about CNote and our mission here. Also, feel free to contact our team at support@mycnote.com with any questions.

By CDFIs, CNote

Coverage from TechCrunch

Illustration of paper notes and coins on yellow backgroundToday marks the day when the first financial product based on Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) is brought by CNote to individuals for the first time in history. The coverage from TechCrunch perfectly captures the nature of CDFIs and their social impact mission:

Community development financial institutions are an integral part of economic development in the United States. They support affordable housing, minority owned business and other entities that may struggle to get the capital they need from traditional banks.

CNote’s aim is to democratize finance: we strongly believe that everyone is entitled to the benefits of financial innovation, not just the top 1%. Our first CDFI-based product is the first step in that direction. Soon all Americans will have access to the product and will be able to reap the returns, both financial and social, that come from lending to CDFIs and supporting minority and female entrepreneurs. Through CDFIs, we can all do our part in improving underserved communities across the country. 

You can learn more about CNote and our mission here. Also, feel free to contact our team with any questions at support@mycnote.com.

By CNote

#WHATWENEEDTOSUCCEED

30 billion, 90%, 5 times, 27 dollars, 7%…what’s behind these numbers? On one hand, a grim picture of missed opportunity, on another – a light of hope for our future. Consider the facts:

  • If women scaled as entrepreneurs, $30 billion can be added to our country GDP.
  • Women put 90% of their income into their communities and families.
  • Women have been starting businesses at 5x the rate of the national average.
  • 1 out of 27 dollars of commercial lending goes to women led businesses.
  • 7% of all the venture capital is received by women.

I remembered these facts last week as I attended the Scale Collective event in NYC hosted by Virago, a strategic advisory supporting women entrepreneurs. The event brought close to 100 women entrepreneurs together and was held at the venue located in midtown west, the part of the city going through unprecedented transformation and rebirth, from the area of dark and deserted warehouses into glass skyrises attracting sun light and new life.

I found it to be very symbolic. The movement of women entrepreneurship is gaining momentum, coming out of the shadow and into the light. There are now events, networks, funds, accelerators focused solely on women in business. This progress is remarkable, but we need more. The majority of these efforts are happening locally, organized by one or two women specialized on one problem area. What we’re missing is collective scale, national effort, and change on a federal level.

This is #whatweneedtosucceed is all about. In a letter to a future president endorsed by 80 companies, there is an agenda of items that must be implemented at a national level to promote and create equal opportunities for women entrepreneurs. This is the first call-for-action of its kind. Among many “needs” on the list, there are a few deeply engraved in the mission of CNote and our CDFI partners: to “foster small business lending” and to “create new sources of capital.”

The buzz about women’s potential in business is out there moving in waves. My greatest hope is that these waves reach the ocean. In 10 to 20 year, I hope that our daughters won’t be sitting in the same room, talking about #whatweneedtosucceed but rather sharing their stories of success and celebrating the progress, not knowing the times when it had been different for their mothers.

– Yuliya Tarasava, Co-founder

By CDFIs

Reflections post-CDFI conference

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending the national conference of Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) in Atlanta. CDFIs, as you’ve read in previous posts are the “good guys and gals of finance.” They provide fair capital and coaching to underserved segments like women and minorities in a high integrity, transparent and personal way. While I was in Atlanta, I met many impressive professionals. Their financial acumen, industry prowess and commitment to their community was nothing short of impressive. But what really made me stop and pause was their stories. CDFI professionals never lose site that beyond the spreadsheets, technology and complex modeling that makes their industry sing, there is an underlying heartbeat that keeps them going — the borrowers.

CDFI borrowers have some of the most beautiful and inspiring stories I’ve ever heard.

It made me reflect on my own neighborhood and the propensity that many of us have to take our local small businesses for granted. The place we grab a bagel. The local dry cleaners. The pet shop down the street. These are neighborhood establishments that serve our needs, but behind those storefronts are people – passionate, committed, driven small business owners that started once with a “what if I’ and turned it into a “and so it shall be.”

Most CDFI borrowers had one if not several denials or rejections before walking through the doors of CDFI. And when they are greeted with someone who believes in them, the magic begins. They meet a loan officer or a business coach that wants to hear their story, that wants to hear the why behind their business and most importantly, that wants to see them succeed.

I will admit, I was incredibly impressed last week to see the level of expertise and professionalism that the CDFI industry hosts. By what I walked away with at the annual OFN conference was not just a natural admiration, it was an emotional connection. Every day, CDFIs change the course of someone’s life. This effects not just that individual, but their family and their community – our community – for years to come.

– Cat Berman, Co-founder

By Financial Planning

Are you an over-saver?

Nearly 1/3 of Americans are over-saving, amounting to over $300B in “extra” savings sitting in banks earning nothing. So why do we do it? CNote interviewed 100+ over-savers to find out. Here’s what we learned.

I know, it sounds like a funny term. Over-saver? But if you are one of the millions of Americans that have a rainy day fund, there is a high chance that you too, are an over-saver. We define an over-saver as someone who houses more than their emergency fund in their savings account. Perhaps you keep $1,000 more – or tens of thousands more. Whatever the case – you’re not alone. Nearly 1/3 of all American’s are over-savers, amounting to over $300B in “extra” savings.

So why call out our propensity to over-save? Well two reasons really. First and foremost, if your savings is housed in a traditional bank, you are actually losing money. Those bank interest rates are no longer keeping up with the rate of inflation, and online savings banks are barely matching it themselves.

Secondly, I would argue that keeping $300B on the sidelines is bad news for our economy. When over $300B sits in savings accounts earning nothing, that means less money is circulating, spent, loaned and put to work to make our economy stronger.

So you may ask yourself – why do we do it? Why do we house extra dollars when we know they will bare little fruit in this incredibly low interest rate environment? Well I decided to find out. I went out and interviewed over 100 over-savers and here were the main themes that emerged:

1) Liquid is Safety – after enduring several recessions, many Americans still feel that the only thing they can rely on is cash. Will the market crash under the next administration? Will my dollars be there for me when I need to cash out? Many of us think our cash on hand is simply smart given the volatility we’ve seen. It’s not that we won’t play the market – we just won’t put all eggs in any one basket.

2) Flexibility is Key – we used to be a more predictable society. I know my parents had a plan – whether it was for big vacations or retirement – and they stuck to that plan. But many of us just simply don’t live our life that way. What if there is a big purchase we want to make next year? Or an investment opportunity we don’t want to miss? Having cash on hand makes those opportunistic leaps easier.

3) We Simply Forget – I know it sounds silly, but I heard this over and over again. When new cash comes in, many of us take the easiest road: dump it in our savings. That’s much easier that exploring our options and it’s why those dollars are often left there without thought, intention or investment.

Take all of these together and you have a snapshot of how we’ve developed a hefty $300B+ cash cushion.

I think it’s finally time to admit it – Americans are increasingly tied (psychologically and emotionally) to liquidity. While not as sexy as trading, cash management is important – but often ignored. We are here to turn that around.

Our goal at CNote is to create a new reality for good savers that allows you to do good and do well. We believe you deserve an experience that is simple, honest and helpful. As we create this new world, we invite you to comment, challenge and help us redesign a financial reality we can all be proud of.

– Cat Berman, Co-founder

By CDFIs, Savings

The Good Guys of Finance. (Yes, they exist)

Having worked in both venture capital and financial services, I have seen some of the best and worst faces of finance. But there is one financial segment that is largely ignored and vastly under-celebrated. I call them “the good guys and girls of finance” for many reasons, but also because it’s easier than their name: CDFI.CDFIs, or Community Development Financial Institutions, were created over 20 years ago by the U.S. Treasury Department to help ensure that our country’s most underserved populations – low-income neighborhoods, women and minorities – were getting fair access to capital. Think about it this way: large banks don’t always find it easy or prudent to lend capital to certain types of small businesses, including first time entrepreneurs or entrepreneurs who need less than 100K to start up their business. And if you are a woman and/or minority, unfortunately, the statistics have shown you are even less likely to secure that capital.

Herein lies the opportunity, and the triumph, of CDFIs. Their mission is to ensure that high-potential, underserved borrowers get the capital they need to run their businesses. They provide fair costs of capital, reasonable short and long-term products and one more thing – business coaching. CDFIs understand that running a business and assuming a loan are large responsibilities that, for most of us, require additional coaching and mentorship.

If you haven’t heard of CDFIs I encourage you to check them out. Everyday I stumble upon new learnings and success stories of how CDFIs are transforming our communities. I look forward to sharing them with you.

– Cat Berman, Co-founder

By CNote, Financial Planning, Savings

The world that we co-create

What if…

We lived in a world where we could vote with our dollars – in everything we do.

Not just by buying a cup of coffee from the local shop we love, but by actually investing in that shop’s growth and success.

And what if we benefited too? Not only by feeling great about supporting our community, but actually creating financial freedom for ourselves along the way.

This is what we are creating..and we hope you’ll join us for the journey.

We are CNote.

CNote stands for co-creation. The idea that every $100…and really every $1…can be intentional and meaningful.

Instead of investing in what we’re told to invest in — stocks, bonds, ETFs, whatever the next acronym is — we invest in each other.

We call it investing in people, not products.

The feedback we’ve gotten so far has been inspiring and quite moving.

Join us creating a meaningful alternative for where our money goes and what our money stands for.

Join the village!

– Cat Berman, Co-founder

Y combinator
By CNote

CNote selected for Y Combinator Fellowship

Y combinator

We are proud to announce that CNote has been selected to be a part of Y Combinator’s Fellowship program. YC has helped to fund and grow an amazing list of innovative companies, and we’re proud to be among their ranks.

The doors this opportunity opens is not lost on our team. We know this selection is just the first few steps in our march towards innovating and democratizing finance, but we’re extremely excited!  We’re looking forward to further refining our products and building more relationships in the financial technology space as a result of this fantastic opportunity with YC.

CNote was created from a place of optimism and determination. We are crazy enough to believe we can redesign finance and create products and services that inspire and empower, not confuse and frustrate. Our aim is to focus on inclusivity, integrity and community when creating every financial product we bring to market.

You can learn more about CNote and our mission here. Also, feel free to contact our team with any questions at support@mycnote.com.