Neobanking and the Push Toward Better Customer Service in Banking…Finally

By Rob Odell

Article originally published on ValueWalk

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While neobanks initially emerged in response to the barriers presented by traditional banks, they have become viable businesses in their own right by offering products, services, and a level of convenience that traditional banks have been slow to adopt.

Traditional Banks Slow To Respond To Evolving Customer Preferences

Though most traditional banks have worked to add new features and services, overall they have been slow to respond to evolving customer preferences. Take mobile apps for example. Most major banks today offer a mobile app that enables customers to conduct some of their banking via their phones. But these platforms often act and feel like digital extensions of their monolithic physical branches, clumsily ported onto your phone, and unable to harness the immense power that smartphones and internet-connectivity offers.

As frustrating as it is, this lack of innovation on the part of traditional banks makes sense if you consider their history. For decades, the biggest banks in the world functioned within the structure of an oligopoly and it wasn’t until fairly recently that they ever needed to worry about new kinds of competition.

While this lack of innovation has reduced the appeal of big banks among customers and has created space for the emergence of neobanks, it is not the only contributing factor to this shift in customer perspective. Unethical behavior by banks has come to the forefront in the past decade as many of the world’s biggest traditional banks have embroiled themselves in scandals and the details of those scandals have been broadcast to the public.

To name just a few, Deutsche Bank has been linked to money laundering, Wells Fargo paid a $185 million fine for creating millions of accounts on behalf of customers without their knowledge, and the financial crisis of 2007–2008 reads like a murderer’s row of the biggest names in the global banking industry. Additionally, repeated regulatory attempts by world governments to rein in unethical banking practices have merely resulted in newer, more creative ways for banks to break the rules in pursuit of profits.

It’s safe to say that this shady behavior has not sat well with customers. According to a survey by The World Economic Forum, “45.3 percent of respondents said they ‘disagree’ with the statement that they trust banks to be fair and honest.” This lack of trust in banks has paved the way for neobanks to enter the finance space, opening customers’ minds to consider alternative banking options.

Now consider some of the advantages that neobanks such as PayPal, Square, Alipay, Monzo, Wealthfront, Robinhood and Simple offer.

It starts with greater convenience. By offering a way for customers to bank from the palm of their hand, neobanks are able to avoid incurring the real estate and operational costs associated with maintaining and operating physical branches. These cost savings can then be passed along to customers in the form of lower interest rates on loans.

Beyond offering lower rates, neobanks also focus on making loans more accessible. They bring with them far less bureaucracy than traditional banks offer, enabling customers to get faster loan approval. This has also been the narrow focus for my company SALT, where digital asset-backed lending has enabled us to provide our customers with access to cash and offer competitive interest rates without having to take their credit scores into account.

Unlike traditional banks, neobanks have boomed in the time of smartphones, building their platforms with a mobile-first approach. This completely digital environment produces a user-friendly interface, driven by cutting-edge APIs.

Neobanks’ systems tend to be both highly automated and scalable. They offer open infrastructures with the idea that other creative applications can be built on top of their basic banking platform to improve their offerings. This also means they can adapt quite rapidly to a fast-changing industry. It’s far more likely to see one of these newcomers start to offer cryptoasset services before any traditional institution.

While big banks seek to own as many pieces of a customer’s financial existence as possible, neobanks understand that choice is the future of finance. By offering customers the opportunity to choose from an array of creative banking solutions, neobanks are completely disrupting the banking industry. While some companies are offering microlending, others are offering commission-free stock trading, undercutting the costs of even the lowest-price discount brokers.

Combine these offerings with FDIC-insured savings accounts, checking accounts with debit cards, ATM access, credit cards, and mobile-first features such as mobile check deposits, and customers have nearly every banking service they need in one place.

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Source: McKinsey

Even with all of these advances, neobanks still constitute a small percentage of the overall banking and financial services space, leaving plenty of room for significant growth. How that growth manifests itself remains an open question.

That question is this: Will fintech companies overtake traditional banks, or just add competition?

The answer will likely depend largely on how quickly and extensively traditional banks evolve. Historically, they’ve been slow to change, and haven’t paid the price for that intransigence. That’s because over the years, most banking customers have been fairly inert, accepting higher interest rates on loans, recursively punitive overdraft fees, and monthly account maintenance fees because they haven’t found better alternatives that they can trust.

The current COVID-19 pandemic could force change, both among banking service consumers and the industry itself. Visits to physical bank branches were already an inconvenience to customers before the outbreak of COVID-19. Now that banks are inevitably having to focus on their digital service offerings, even traditional banking customers will get to experience fully digital banking. How well their bank performs in this aspect will determine whether a customer remains loyal to their bank following the crisis, or chooses to make the switch to a neobank that can better meet their needs.

As more customers seek better banking alternatives, the younger generation will be able to teach traditional banking customers about the benefits of neobanks. From there, it won’t take much due diligence before more people realize that neobanks offer smoother platforms, better interest rates, and more flexibility than traditional banks.

If that happens and traditional banks’ market share starts to erode at a faster pace, traditional banks will be faced with the classic build-or-buy dilemma. Will they hire the best, more forward-thinking engineers to catch up to neobanks’ superior technology and user interfaces? Will they seek to acquire leading fintech companies as a way to protect themselves? Or will they remain complacent, and let fintech upstarts pass them by?

Fintech companies’ ability to grab market share will entail overcoming significant challenges, beyond just traditional banks’ huge edge in brand recognition.

Stock-trading app Robinhood suffered multiple shutdowns as financial markets crashed in early March. Chime, a leading branchless U.S. bank, has experienced multiple outages over the past year, with the company’s five million users unable to see their balances and intermittently unable to use their debit cards. Above all other banking features, customers want to know that they can access their money when necessary, so these kinds of setbacks must subside if fintech contenders want to make serious headway.

Meanwhile, regulatory complexity within countries and across regions is contributing to “winner take most” outcomes for fintech disruptors. Neobanks need to invest more in regional compliance to gain traction, rather than trying to launch globally on day one.

The landscape is changing rapidly for neobanks, and it will keep changing. Venture capital-backed startups will try to grab a big piece of the consumer banking world, but they’ll face plenty of competition. We might also see fintech firms partner and bundle services in an effort to compete head-on with the big banks.

Ultimately, the future of banking could simply come down to consumer awareness. Take my brother-in-law for example. After recently receiving a check from his grandfather, he sent it home to his parents so they could deposit it into his bank account. Although he’s highly educated and technologically savvy, he had no idea that he could deposit the check in a matter of seconds with a mobile banking app. Instances like this demonstrate that there’s still ways to go in terms of shifting consumers’ mindsets to challenge traditional banking.

It’s something that people don’t really think about, unless they work in the industry, or need to get a mortgage or some other major service from their bank.

Just as disruption has changed consumer habits in so many other industries, it will eventually do so in banking. Neobanks are better positioned to integrate with top data transfer network providers like Plaid, as they think about service through a lens that is different from that of traditional banks. As consumers become more aware of alternative banking options, they will catch on to the advantages of neobanks and inevitably make the switch, choosing to abandon their traditional bank in the process.

For the banking industry, change is already here. And more change is coming.

About the Author

Rob Odell is Co-President & Chief Product Officer at SALT where he is responsible for developing the strategic direction of the company and managing the product and marketing teams. Rob has been a Bitcoin believer since 2013 after being introduced to it by a Bali-based coffee roaster selling his beans for Bitcoin. SALT allows borrowers to use their cryptoassets as collateral to secure cash or stablecoin loans.

California, Here We Come

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We’ve been California dreamin’ for a while now and guess what? It’s no longer a dream. That’s right. As of today, we’re officially checking into the Hotel California.

310? 415? It doesn’t matter. We love L.A. And we love the Bay. And it’s not just because the West Coast has the sunshine and the best waves. We surf, too, but like, on the Web.

Whether we’re driving down the 101 or the 99 (we’re here for you CenCal), at SALT we’re always cruising. But mostly we keep on growing. Between the addition of D.C. last week and California this week, we’re making Blockchain-Backed Loans™ accessible to a lot more businesses and a lot more people — in California’s case, 39 million more people.

We’ve heard somewhere before that you all know how to party… in that case, we’re hella stoked to serve you.

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Visit saltlending.com to apply for a loan.

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SALT Expands U.S. Reach to 86%, Offers Blockchain-Backed Loans™ in Washington, D.C.

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We’re now offering Blockchain-Backed Loans™ in Washington, D.C., Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Montana, meaning we can now lend in 86 percent of the United States.

As SALT continues to grow, we remain focused on continuing to expand our lendable jurisdictions not only within the United States, but throughout the entire world. “We recently announced a significant increase in our international jurisdictions and have continued to build upon that progress over the past couple of months,” said Bill Sinclair, CTO and Interim President and CEO of SALT. “With the addition of our nation’s capital and three other U.S. jurisdictions, we’re that much closer to achieving our goal of being able to provide loans to the entire country.”

For more on SALT’s lendable jurisdictions, visit saltlending.com.

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SALT: A Better Way to Unleash the Value of Your Blockchain Assets

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There are a lot of loan offerings out there for blockchain assets, but none of them are quite like SALT.

Let us tell you why.

At SALT our guiding principle is to put you first — and that means offering more than just Blockchain-Backed Loans™. We strive to offer the highest level of service and security because we’re committed not only to helping you make the most of your digital assets, but to helping you keep them safe.

Here are a few ways we’re staying true to that commitment through our offerings.

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Security is imperative when it comes to maintaining safe custody of your assets and it’s a top priority at SALT. Here are just a few features we have developed to ensure the safety of you and your assets:

· Offline storage and generation of all platform wallet keys — plus, our key management controls are CryptoCurrency Security Standards (CCSS) compliant

· Multi-signature wallet protection — requires multiple independent signers to access funds

· Multi-factor enrollment required and user passwords protected by SHA256

· TLS (SSL) protection for all website traffic with industry-standard RSA 2018 encryption

· Ongoing third-party penetration testing and platform assessment

· Multiple layers of network and application firewalling

Aside from the above, one of the features that sets us apart from other lenders is that we don’t commingle your assets. Instead we create a unique multi-signature wallet for each of you, as well as for each individual collateral type you put onto the SALT platform — an added layer of security given your assets are never pooled with the rest of the user base.

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What better way to track your assets than to know exactly where they stand?

At SALT, we believe in transparency, which is why we’ve built technology that enables us to track the values of multiple collateral types from multiple exchanges by calculating the volume weighted average. With the ability to pull this data in near-real time, we can provide the most stable as possible price of your collateral to protect it in the event of an exchange experiencing issues. Because of this technology, we’ve also been able to develop a near real-time Loan-to-Value (LTV) monitoring system. These capabilities combined allow us to provide you with the information necessary for you to simultaneously track your loan health and portfolio value at any time. Even when you aren’t tracking these items on your own, our automated notification system helps keep you up-to-date via phone, text and email so you’re alerted if and when your collateral declines in value.

Additionally, as mentioned previously, we refrain from commingling your assets — a major benefit given you can rest assured that your assets aren’t being mixed in with anyone else’s and that they’re verifiable independent of the SALT platform.

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We want to help you maximize the potential of your blockchain assets and work with you to accomplish your goals. Not only do we offer a quick, simple process for securing a loan, but we’re able to deposit funds into your account as quickly as you’re able to complete the loan process. Simply customize your loan options, apply for a loan, and then transfer your chosen collateral types to the SALT platform, and once your application is approved, we’ll drop the requested funds into your bank account.

Aside from a fast turnaround time and ease of use, there are a few other points to keep in mind about how we do (and don’t do) business.

We DO:

· Currently offer 4 collateral types — Bitcoin, Ethereum, Litecoin, and Dogecoin

· Offer the option to combine collateral types to secure a loan

· Offer flexible loan terms with a variety of APR and loan term duration options

· Lend in multiple jurisdictions around the world, with more expansions coming soon

· Help you secure the best loan terms for you depending on your location and needs

We DON’T:

· Charge origination fees

· Charge prepayment fees

· Run credit checks

· Commingle your assetsImage for post

Navigating the lending landscape — whether it be in the traditional or blockchain sense — can be tricky and confusing, which is why we connect you with a dedicated professional throughout your entire journey with us.

Sign up – once you become a SALT member, we provide you with direct access to experts who can answer your questions and guide you through our platform and offerings — with offices in the Philippines, Mauritius, and Denver, we offer global support that you can either access online 24/7 or via phone during business hours

Borrow – once you become a SALT borrower, we assign a dedicated lending associate to each customer to guide them through the underwriting process; once the loan is funded we assign a Member Success Advocate to be your primary point of contact regarding your relationship with us

Once you sign up, we provide you with access to 24/7 online support followed by access to seasoned lending professionals and a dedicated underwriter throughout your entire journey with us from membership to borrowing. Whether you want to speak with someone via phone during business hours or access online support at any point in the week, you can take comfort in knowing there’s a person who’s dedicated to answering your questions quickly and personably.

At SALT, we operate with a customer-first mindset because you’re the reason we come to work each day. As we seek to add new collateral types, platform features, and lendable jurisdictions, we remain focused — focused on our vision, our contribution to the advancement of blockchain technology, and most importantly on our commitment to helping you unleash the power of your blockchain assets.

To stay in the loop about what’s new at SALT, follow us on TwitterFacebookLinkedIn or Telegram.

Sign up to receive updates and announcements from SALT.

Our Two Satoshis on the 10th Anniversary of Bitcoin

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Ten years ago today Satoshi Nakamoto announced his vision to change the world. This vision came via the Bitcoin White paper, which defined Bitcoin as “A purely peer-to-peer version of electronic cash would allow online payments to be sent directly from one party to another without going through a financial institution.” Since the publishing of the white paper, Bitcoin has completely revolutionized the way we think about the world — not only in how the world works today, but in how it can work in the future.

As we acknowledge the tenth anniversary of Satoshi’s white paper, we at SALT are proud to not only be contributors to the blockchain space, but to be among those working to advance the capabilities of humanity via blockchain. Ten years later and Satoshi’s work is still inspiring people throughout the world — it’s the catalyst for individuals and companies to find new ways of addressing challenges with global finance, real estate, and healthcare, to tracking everything from global food supply, to votes to donations. It’s not just a new technology but a new way of thinking — and one thing’s for sure — SALT wouldn’t exist without it.

To commemorate this moment in time, we spoke with SALT’s team and clients about what Bitcoin means to them, how it’s impacted their lives, and how it’s changed the world. Here’s what they had to say:

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SALT Welcomes Eric Spencer as Chief Financial Officer

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While in the past couple months we’ve expanded globally, we’ve also expanded our executive team to include its newest member and Chief Financial Officer, Eric Spencer. Eric brings more than 10 years of finance experience in the lending and real estate industries, which will enable him to build out SALT’s infrastructure by establishing key banking relationships and developing a framework for the company’s reporting process.

Prior to his role at SALT, Eric spent five years as SVP Controller for Computershare Loan Services where he oversaw the accounting, finance, treasury, billing, A/P and A/R units of the business, as well as managed seven credit facilities and coordinated “Big 4” audits. Before that he served as VP of Finance and Accounting at Broe Real Estate Services where he was responsible for all 80 real estate assets, which totaled more than $400 million in gross value. Eric also held previous finance positions at AIMCO and Capmark/GMAC.

Despite his primarily traditional financial background, Eric is an avid follower of all things blockchain and is excited for its potential even outside of the financial services industry. “There are so many interesting uses for blockchain tech and the one that stands out to me most is the concept of leveraging it for foodbanks in communities where there’s no cash or currency,” Eric shared. “Blockchain tech has the potential to fight corruption, bring greater equality to certain areas, and hopefully eventually solve some of the world’s largest problems like starvation. It’s a mind-blowing mechanism that if leveraged correctly, can make the world a better place.”

Until then, Eric is looking forward to seeing blockchain tech play a greater role in the financial services industry, especially as it relates to SALT. “I’m most excited about SALT’s growth potential and all that we’re trying to accomplish in the next 12 months,” he said. “We’re

Image for postfocused on some major goals within the organization, and I’ll be working cross-functionally to ensure we have the strategy, infrastructure, and people required to bring our vision to life.”

As Eric focuses on SALT’s goals, he says he’ll keep in mind a philosophy he’s learned from spending time on the golf course — one that will help him and his team not only achieve these goals but also enjoy the journey doing so. “Golf has taught me that sometimes it’s better to not go 120 percent but to go at an even pace,” he said. “It applies to work and life in that sometimes you find yourself working so hard that you lose sight of things, and you don’t enjoy the journey. When you go at an even pace, not only is it more fun,

but you also get better results.”

When he’s not golfing or thinking about blockchain tech, Eric enjoys riding roller coasters, playing sports with his two sons, and going to concerts with his wife (their next one is Justin Timberlake). He also reads a ton. His favorite recent read? The Big Short (pretty fitting for a CFO, right?).

Not only does Eric have an incredible financial background and a passion for life-long learning, but his leadership style has mentorship at its core — all signs of a strong leader. SALT is proud to have him on board as our CFO, and we’re are confident that between his expertise and enthusiasm, he’ll help guide us to where we want to be.

Blockchain: The Path Forward

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What began just over 10 months ago as high-level conversations around blockchain technology culminated this week with what was arguably the world’s most significant blockchain conference. Hosted by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and designed for regulators and industry participants, the OECD Blockchain Policy Forum was the most important discussion around the deployment of blockchain in dozens of industries to date. The OECD is an intergovernmental economic organization committed to democracy and developing best practices across domestic and international policy that lead to improved social, economic, and environmental health on a global scale.

As a premier sponsor for the event, SALT is proud to say that our Co-Founder and Director of Global Strategy, Benjamin Yablon, has not only served as Special Advisor to the OECD for the past year, but also that he had the opportunity to represent SALT this week as a company leading the global conversation around blockchain.

According to Ben, the forum led to three major positive outcomes, all of which illustrate the promise of blockchain and the international community’s ability to work together to fulfill that promise:

“The sheer fact that three heads of state attended the forum speaks to the fact that a broader audience is recognizing the value of blockchain technology,” said Benjamin Yablon. “This level of international participation is unheard of in this emerging space and I’m grateful to both José Ángel Gurría Treviño, Secretary-General of the OECD, and Greg Medcraft, Director of the Directorate for Financial and Enterprise Affairs of the OECD, for allowing me to contribute in an advisory capacity with a platform starting to address the OECD directorate in such a direct way. Our collaborative work is what made this Forum happen.”

Ben is looking forward to continuing to serve as an advisor to the OECD, helping to shape the global narrative around blockchain, and execute on many of the ideas and proposals that came out of this week’s Forum. “There’s more interest and excitement around this topic than you can imagine, and the

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OECD was the perfect conveyer to have this type of discussion, primarily because the global ecosystem values the OECD as a neutral standard setting body that is uniquely positioned to bring our voices together for the greater good — an environment that others just can’t offer,” he said.

As Ben noted in his panel discussion earlier this week, achieving mass adoption of blockchain technology and digital financial assets will require the development of a taxonomy — an agreed-upon set of terms and definitions that will enable us to speak about these concepts in way that drives understanding and alignment among industry and governmental leaders. “Once we have a true taxonomy, principles-based regulatory frameworks will to start to exist,” Ben noted.

It’s clear from this week’s forum that a lot of progress has been made in the past couple of days, but it’s even more evident that there’s still a great deal of work to be done. It will take years to bring this process to maturity, but as long as we have solid leaders in place to guide discussions, propose solutions, and make decisions, we can feel confident that we’re heading in the right direction.

OECD Blockchain Policy Forum: Maximizing the Potential of Blockchain will require LEADERSHIP

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“The opportunities of the long-term developments of blockchain far outweigh its risks.” 

These are the words with which Prime Minister of the Republic of Mauritius Pravind Kumar Jugnauth kicked off the OECD Blockchain Policy Forum. Not only did these words set the stage for the event, but they reflect the very sentiment of it — it’s not about whether we should take blockchain to the next level, but how we should go about doing so. Leadership was the recurring theme throughout the day’s discussions and, more specifically, how we as leaders have a responsibility to leverage blockchain technology in ways that benefit the greater good.

As Editor of The Economist and today’s emcee, Anne McElvoy, so elegantly put it, “At first we thought this technology was the engine of security, then it was thought to be the engine of trust — and it is all that — but I think of it as the engine of innovation.” While blockchain has changed the way we think about security and trust via trustless transactions, it now calls on us to continuously develop new ways to apply the technology to our everyday lives. How can we leverage blockchain technology to positively impact our societies and economies? How can we continue pushing the limits of innovation when there are still so many variables? What steps can we take as an international community to drive universal alignment and understanding as it relates to blockchain tech? Collaborative leaders — people committed to working together to effect change — will be paramount to pushing blockchain technology to its full potential.

As an advisor to the OECD for the past year, it was exciting to see SALT’s co-founder and Head of Global Strategy, Ben Yablon, foster discussion around these challenges during his panel, titled “Building a Global Policy Environment for Digital Financial Assets.” Of note, he touched on the need to develop a single lexicon as an initial step toward creating a framework around how we describe blockchain technology and digital financial assets. It’s an ongoing discussion, and I’m proud that Ben will continue to offer his leadership to the OECD on how to begin working through some of blockchain’s biggest roadblocks. While there were numerous panelists and speakers at the event, all with different expertise and perspectives, the underlying theme of all of them was the same — we must take it upon ourselves to ensure we are leveraging blockchain technology in the best ways and remaining open-minded as we think about the opportunity it creates for the world.

-Jennifer Nealson, SALT CMO

More Than Twice the Opportunity

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Until recently SALT Lending has been operating in 15 U.S. jurisdictions, as well as New Zealand and the United Kingdom. Our active pursuit of additional opportunities to enable our members has paid off. We are proud to announce the addition of 20 new jurisdictions in the United States in which we can expand our operation for a total of 35. Effectively we’ve broadened our reach by 60%. As our growth continues, we anticipate making additional announcements about where we will be operating. For today, we are pleased to service an abundance of new member applications.

Our operational intent in new jurisdictions available for both businesses and individuals includes a total of 13 U.S. states. Previously SALT was present in 5 U.S. states including Alabama, Alaska, Colorado, Georgia, and Kentucky. SALT is now set up in an additional 9 U.S. jurisdictions which include Connecticut, District of Columbia, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, and Oklahoma. Alabama has joined the list of business-only jurisdictions.

SALT’s operations focused solely on business loans will also expand. Previously SALT’s business-only loan operations included Delaware, Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, South Carolina, Oklahoma, and Wyoming. Luckily four of these are areas that have moved to the list for both business and individual operations. These include: Kansas, New Hampshire, North Carolina, and Oklahoma. Business-only jurisdictions now include 22 areas. The newly added states are: Alabama, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Nebraska, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

We are currently engaging with members who previously submitted loan inquiries and reside in areas in which we did not previously operate. We wish to thank you for holding and waiting until this time and encourage you to submit your loan inquiries for our review.

In the meantime, new member applications will be accepted at the upgraded member portal. Those with a previous membership that have not yet reestablished their account on the new platform are advised to do this as soon as they receive email confirmation that their account has been triggered. After this process has been completed, members will have the opportunity to check out minimum requirements in specific jurisdictions, use tools associated with the Proof of Access (POA) program and review their fresh new personalized dashboard for more membership detail.

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Honored, But Not Distracted

A Message From SALT

As many are aware, I recently took on the position of President and CEO of SALT. And, while you’ll hear more from me in the coming days regarding the exciting developments here at SALT, I felt it was important to take a moment and address some rumors and speculation in the marketplace.

Recently, SALT has received a number of marketing inquiries showing interest in buying our business. While we appreciate our competitors’ interest in our purpose and business model, our company is not for sale, nor are we seeking any M&A (mergers and acquisitions) activities.

There are strong opportunities squarely in our sights, and all of us at SALT are excited to continue and execute our business plan. We are fully focused on enhancing our products for stakeholders, including investors and borrowers, and building a strong employee base to ensure we continue bridging the gap between crypto holders and conventional financial systems.

With over $50 million in loans serviced to date, a user base of over 70,000, and active loans in 3 countries, the community should rest assured that SALT remains strong and is dedicated to improving its products, services, and availability.

Until next time,

Bill Sinclair
Interim President & CEO
Chief Technology Officer