Credit card for those fresh off the boat

Ritu Jha-

“The problem is so obvious. It was there for decades and I was surprised no one tried to solve this,” says Raghunandan G., founder, and CEO of a year-old startup Zolve.

Zolve is a neobank – or an internet-only bank or digital bank – that offers debit cards, credit cards and bank accounts even before you land on American soil.

In an interview with indica, Raghunandan, who is based in Bangalore, India, shared his vision and why he started Zolve, said it was strange to see Indians who came to the U.S. with a good credit history as students or employees, being unable to get a credit card because they have no credit history here.

Raghunanandan started talking about this issue to banks and credit unions, including CitiBank and HSBC, which have customers in India and abroad.

“We believe we have a good solution, so instead of waiting for someone to come and solve it, it is better you solve it,” said Raghunandan, a serial entrepreneur, who had earlier founded TaxiForSure, which was sold to Ola Cabs in 2015 for $200 million.

He was to get Zolve going in 2019 but the pandemic delayed by a year the effort to register it in Delaware. August 3 last year, he launched Zolve, which today has over 70,000 customers.

He said the startup did not rely on any regulation changes,  it had just partnered with the FDIC-insured Community Federal Savings Bank to help any immigrant coming to the U.S. For now, though, the focus is limited to customers from India coming to the U.S.

“We educate them and offer them bank accounts, debit cards, credit cards, and help them to open a bank account,” Raghunandan said. “We ask their credit history, education history, employment history, job offer letter and we have our own underwriting algorithm to see if a customer is a low risk or high risk.”
For students with no credit, Zolve checks the institution they have studied at in India and what is the probability of them getting education loans, opening bank accounts or being self-funded.

Students and job-seekers are offered cards once their U.S. visa is approved. Based on their credit history in India, they get $5000-$10,000 in their account.

“Once the person lands, they can book Uber, Lyft and pay online,” Raghunandan said.

The Zolve team finds student customers in India through affiliate partners, GRE centers in India, counselors, policy agents and social media groups. For working professionals, it reaches out to travel agents, companies that send their employees to the U.S., and others. The workers are screened for their credit history, ability to pay, and intent to pay.

Raghunandan said the net goes out to people in smaller cities in India, too.

Despite the state of the markets, Raghunandan said that Zolve has succeeded in raising over $50 million from various venture capital firms: Tiger Global and Alkeon Capital and existing investors
Lightspeed Venture Partners and Accel.

Raghunandan says with a smile, “I don’t have to pitch.” That’s true. Thing is, most of his investors are immigrants who have all experienced the same problem.