How digital bank Cheese is aimed at serving the Asian American community

Digital banking platform Cheese is aiming to serve Asian Americans and immigrants. Cheese Co-Founder & CEO Ken Lian and Actor & Cheese Chief Community Ambassador Jimmy Wong join Yahoo Finance Live to discuss.

Video Transcript


AKIKO FUJITA: Well, shares of unbanked Americans reached record lows in 2019 at 5.4%. That's according to numbers from the FDIC. But a new digital bank is aiming to narrow the divide even further, specifically, looking to lift the Asian-American/Pacific Islander community as well as immigrant business owners.

Let's bring in Ken Lian. He is the co-founder of Cheese. We've also got Jimmy Wong, actor and chief community ambassador. It's great to have both of you on. Ken, let me start the question with you. Walk me through, specifically, how Cheese is structured and how it's tailored towards the AAPI community.

KEN LIAN: Yes. Thank you, and happy to be here. Cheese is the revolutionary banking platform designed for Asian and immigrants population in the US. It's a zero-fee, cash-back debit card. We also have you get paid up to two days early.

And we partner with over 10,000 stores and brands in the US. So you can get up to 10% cash back. We also build platforms with a social cause. Every time, when you receive a cash back, you can decide to keep it or you can give back and donate it to a nonprofit that we work with to support the AAPI communities and making the place better and the small business in the AAPI communities easier to recover from COVID.

We tailored the experience to the Asians and immigrant segments because we support your lifestyle. So, for example, right, if you want to shop at Asian groceries, then you earn higher cash back than any other products out there. We also customize the products to design for your own language. We have automatic simplified Chinese for now. But we're adding Japanese and Korean into the platforms later.

We're also trying to make it very easy and more accessible for AAPI and the immigrants. For example, we're very proud to say we are weeks away to support people who even don't have a social security number to be able to use a Cheese debit card.

AKIKO FUJITA: Jimmy, in many ways, there has been so much spotlight on the community, unfortunately, because of the anti-Asian hate that we witnessed over the last year. And I wonder, as we look specifically to this community and what Cheese addresses, what are the needs, especially for these small Asian-American business owners that have been hit hard during the pandemic?

JIMMY WONG: Well, it's clear around the world, as well as, especially, in the United States, people just have not been going to restaurants and just being physically present in a lot of places. And that, obviously, has disrupted so many economies. And the people that are probably the hardest hit are going to be the local restaurant owners, people who are family-run businesses. And we've seen that, you know. And I've seen that, working with Cheese, just how many of those Asian-American businesses have been completely disrupted.

So being able to provide support in a number of ways is a huge part of how we recover, both as a community and as a nation. So giving people incentives-- real beneficial incentives to go to restaurants, to support their local communities, as well as get cash back in their accounts-- is one of the reasons that I think Cheese is an integral part of helping rejuvenate our local economies, both, you know, whether your store is down the street, as well as the grocery store. It is just getting people back out into the world and giving them a real reason to do so. And a good benefit for themselves is sort of where this all pairs up, and, I think, actually has a real effect on helping bring us back to where we were before, and perhaps even better.

ZACK GUZMAN: And, Ken, I mean, when we talk about the need, too, specifically within this community, some people may look at it and say oh, that's pretty limiting to kind of just focus in on this opportunity. But it's rather large when we talk about that demographic continually growing here in the US. Talk to me about the growth that you've seen at Cheese through all of this and what you're seeing now.

KEN LIAN: Yeah. We're seeing over close to 10,000 people come to try to apply for a Cheese card. And then we're also seeing a very diverse user segments to support the cause that we are pledging to. We also think it's beyond the numbers, right? It's really fighting a long-term cause with something that you can do daily. You get reward with it. But you're also trying to support what you think should be better.

And we're very proud to say a lot of users are beginning to use it. So we see high retentions. And we are also seeing a lot of influencers, like Jimmy, to promote it. And we're very proud that we're getting more and more segments to use the Cheese card.

AKIKO FUJITA: And, finally, Jimmy, as an ambassador of this brand-- but as an actor who's also been speaking out, quite publicly, about representation-- I wonder what the message is that you want to get out, why, specifically, you teamed up with Cheese?

JIMMY WONG: So a colleague of Ken's reached out to me. And it's something that I worked really closely with several years back. And when I started to learn more about the company-- I like to do my due diligence-- I found out about Ken's story as an immigrant. And I'm the child of two immigrants as well. And that was something that really resonated with me.

Ken had a lot of specific struggles coming to this country and opening an account. You know, there was a language barrier. There was financial barriers. Just a lot of different hurdles in the way. And it was something that I never, personally, had contemplated-- being someone that had the privilege of being a citizen from the day I was born. And it's something that I related to really strongly, because I know that my dad also had a lot of struggles when he came to this country, as well as my mom.

And being able to just sort of be in a situation where I know that I can provide a real good to the amazing amount of work that has been done across the AAPI communities, especially in response to all of these events, is something that inspired me to say, hey, this is a great way to get involved, you know. This is a bank. But it's a bank with a purpose. And it's a purpose that really is aimed at fixing something that is inherently broken.

And it takes a lot of work. And it takes a lot of steps to get there. But I think this is just a great first step and a great second and third, however many steps you want to take. Because this is a journey that's not gonna end with, you know, one day of saying, hey, we contributed a little bit here, and we're fixing it. No, it's about supporting NGOs and nonprofits. And I think Ken and their entire business has such a great mission and cause that it made perfect sense for me to join along.

AKIKO FUJITA: Yeah. It's certainly an important one to highlight, especially during AAPI Heritage Month. Ken Lian and Jimmy Wong, great to talk to both of you today. Appreciate your time.

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