How fintech is revolutionizing refugee finance


How fintech is revolutionizing refugee finance

Seedstars Global

JUNE 25, 2024

When Rebecca Aime arrived in Uganda as a refugee in 2010, she faced unimaginable hardships. With no home, her family spent nine months on the streets. Her mother, unable to find formal employment, took a job that left her paralyzed. At just 13, Rebecca became the breadwinner, risking violence and exploitation.



Rebecca's story highlights the challenges faced by the world's 281 million international migrants, many lacking access to basic financial services. According to the World Bank, in 2021, around 1.4 billion adults globally, or close to one-third of the adult population, were still unbanked, leaving migrants exceptionally vulnerable and trapped in poverty.

Now, a new wave of financial technology (fintech) startups is working to change this reality. By leveraging mobile phones, digital platforms, and alternative data, these companies are expanding access to vital financial tools for migrants and refugees.

How fintech is helping migrants

Inspired by her own experiences, Rebecca founded Patapia, a fintech startup that provides digital business skills training and microcredit to refugee women in Uganda. "We don't want refugees to go through what I went through, being prone to abuse just to get by. Not going to school just like me, which is not fair," she explains.

Patapia's digital platform allows refugee women to form savings groups, access loans, and receive entrepreneurship training all through their mobile phones. The company assigns agents to work closely with the women, providing support and guidance as they build their businesses.

"For many refugee women, Patapia's services have been able to make a difference in their lives," Rebecca notes proudly. "They are able to save every day because they have access to digital finance, start their own businesses, send their children to school and build a better future."

Patapia is part of a growing movement of fintech startups leveraging technology to expand financial access for migrants and refugees. In India, Bandhu is using AI to connect blue-collar migrant workers to jobs and affordable housing, while also providing loans through rental cash flows. By bundling employment, housing and credit services, Bandhu takes an integrated approach to empowering an underserved population.

The MENA-based startup SavPals focuses specifically on providing accountable borrowing and lending solutions for refugees and migrants, who are often excluded from traditional financial services. With an emphasis on transparency and tailored products, SavPals aims to drive financial inclusion with dignity for marginalized communities.

From Uganda to India to the Middle East, these mission-driven fintechs are finding innovative ways to meet the diverse financial needs of migrants - savings, credit, payments, insurance and more.

Can fintech close the financial divide for migrant women?

Rebecca's work with Patapia highlights the particular challenges faced by women in accessing financial services.

Globally, women are less likely to have access to financial institutions or have a bank account. On top of that, nearly 60% of women's employment globally is in the informal economy, and in low-income countries, it is more than 90% (UN Women). For migrant and refugee women, the barriers are even higher.

"The challenges refugees face are not often getting the attention it deserves," Rebecca explains, noting that the lack of support from traditional financial institutions has left many women feeling excluded and powerless.

Fintech has the potential to bridge this gender gap by designing products and services that cater to the unique needs of migrant women. Fintechs are able to serve women who would otherwise be invisible to traditional banks. The result is a more inclusive financial system that empowers women to build livelihoods and support their families.

Scaling impact through collaboration

While fintechs are indeed making great strides, there is still a long way to go to achieve full financial inclusion for migrants and refugees. Overcoming challenges such as lack of access, language barriers, lack of trust, and identity requirements will require sustained effort and collaboration from all stakeholders in the fintech ecosystem (Catalyzing Financial Inclusion for Migrants Report).

Increasing investment in fintechs serving marginalized groups will be critical to scaling their impact, while regulators and policymakers must create enabling environments that foster innovation while protecting consumer welfare.

For Rebecca, building an inclusive fintech future will require a sustained effort from all stakeholders. Patapia and other startups that participated in programs like the Financial Innovations for Women Affected by Migration (FIWAM) are able to get access for more support in building their solutions.

“Reaching out to investors and securing funding has been really challenging," she admits. "But through programs like FIWAM, I've had the opportunity to connect with many promising leads. I'm hopeful that these connections will bear fruit and help us take our impact to the next level."

As the number of international migrants continues to grow, finding ways to support their financial lives is more urgent than ever. Realizing this vision will require a fundamental shift in how we think about and serve marginalized communities, centering the voices and experiences of women like Rebecca and startups like Bandhu and SavPals who have fought tirelessly to build a better future.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

Are you a fintech entrepreneur, investor, or organization working to accelerate financial inclusion for migrants in emerging markets? Seedstars wants to hear from you. Visit to learn more about our programs and partnership opportunities, and join us in building a more inclusive financial future for all.

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