Apr 17, 2024 - News

Boston startup building safer way to send money abroad

Illustration of a phone dispensing money.

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

A pair of Boston entrepreneurs are developing a platform to help immigrants safely deliver money to loved ones back home.

Why it matters: Boston is home to immigrants from around the world, including countries grappling with political upheaval, gang violence and other crises that can turn beneficiaries into targets.

State of play: Clifford Nau, an MIT alum, and Stephanie Joseph, a Harvard Business School graduate, have spent the past year working on their fintech platform Kura.

  • The platform lets users send money that loved ones can use directly at local retailers that accept payment through Kura, such as supermarkets, pharmacies and hospitals.
  • Kura joined the Bank of America Breakthrough Lab accelerator last fall and Techstars' Payments program earlier this year.

Zoom out: The United States is the largest source of remittances, the payments and goods people send to their native countries to support their families.

  • India was the top remittance recipient in 2023 at $125 billion, followed by Mexico at $67 billion and China at $50 billion, the World Bank reported in December.
  • The Boston area is home to tens of thousands of immigrants from the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Cape Verde, Vietnam and other countries that receive remittances.

Between the lines: Families worldwide rely on wire services like Western Union and Moneygram, but in some countries picking up money means waiting in long lines and exposing oneself to thieves.

  • Joseph and Nau wanted to build a safer alternative that would be available 24/7.

For Nau, that would mean giving his mother in Haiti easy access to money in the event of a medical emergency.

  • "One of my fears is — I don't want to receive a phone call at 11pm," said Nau, the COO.
Kura cofounders pose for a photo: CEO Stephanie Joseph on the left and COO Clifford Nau on the right.
Kura CEO Stephanie Joseph and Kura COO Clifford Nau.

How it works: Kura lets people deposit money for goods and services, so the recipients can redeem the funds directly at the corresponding institution (e.g. a hospital or supermarket) – like using Apple Pay or Google Pay.

  • Recipients can use the funds without having to withdraw money from a bank or a remittance company. In fact, the recipient doesn't need to have a bank account to use Kura.
  • Recipients need to verify their identity to the cashier the first time they use Kura to pay.

Reality check: For Kura to work, the startup needs to get enough institutions to accept payment through the platform.

  • Nau and Joseph say they can build their network of merchants quickly once they show how secure and transparent Kura is.

Zoom in: Kura tracks recipients' location to ensure the person is in the same place the account is being used.

  • The platform also lets senders earmark the funds for health care, groceries or other uses to ensure the money isn't stolen or misused.

What's next: Joseph and Nau are presenting at Techstars' Demo Day next week.

  • Moneygram is one of the companies supporting the accelerator.
  • After next week, the team plans to focus on fundraising.
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