Banking is consistently an issue for cannabis entrepreneurs and as the industry gathers momentum—and the country slowly inches toward significant reforms—the demand for cannabis-friendly financial services is growing. Dama Financial launched in 2017 to help fill that need and over the years has developed a comprehensive suite of financial services to help cannabis companies operate and scale their business.
In this Q&A, Dama Financial’s Co-Founder and CEO Anh Hatzopolous discusses how she and her co-founders’ backgrounds in technology and finance positioned them to solve one of the cannabis industry’s biggest pain points, explains how Dama’s services have evolved over the years, and sheds light on common misconceptions in the cannabis industry about banking. Anh also shares the stories behind Dama’s biggest obstacles, their greatest successes, and more!
Check out the full interview below.
Ganjapreneur: What kinds of services does Dama offer to cannabis businesses?
Anh Hatzopoulos: We offer essential tools cannabis companies need to thrive. In addition to providing access to a full suite of FDIC-insured banking services, our business toolkit includes cash management solutions, low-interest installment loans, secured credit cards, consumer payments, and payroll. All our products and services are easily managed in one place through a simple online interface.
What was the inspiration for Dama’s various tools and business services?
It’s pretty simple, actually. Cannabis companies need access to banking, not just to professionalize their operations, but to greatly improve public safety by removing cash from the streets. But for too long no one was offering it to them. My partners George Gresham, Dan Henry and I are experts in financial technology and payments, so we created Dama to meet this demand. We started off by partnering with banks to provide access to FDIC-insured banking services, but we quickly realized that cannabis operators were also lacking access to fundamental business tools that solve real problems. So we expanded to become the one-stop shop that we are now.
What was your career before co-founding Dama?
All three of us spent years helping underserved communities that were locked out of banking—including many used to operating in cash—because the banks weren’t set up structurally to service them. At Netspend we helped resolve this issue for more than 10 million consumers. Then we recognized that the cannabis industry had a similar problem but for business banking, so we leveraged our deep expertise in both banking and payments to solve it.
What has been Dama’s biggest obstacle in serving the cannabis industry?
The biggest obstacle is awareness. Many cannabis operators have had terrible experiences with all things banking, so we need to get that word out that this is a legitimate solution. We have relationships with banks that are ready and waiting to offer cannabis businesses FDIC-insured banking services. That used to be the biggest problem facing the industry, but now it doesn’t have to be.
The cannabis industry has a notoriously difficult time accessing financial services. Congressional proposals like the MORE Act and now the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act suggest that federal reforms could be on the horizon, but has the situation actually changed for cannabis operators?
While there’s still a lot of work to be done on the federal front, we want to drive immediate and positive change for the industry, which is still mostly unlicensed. We’re working to accelerate the standardization of—and raise the standard for—how banks operate with cannabis businesses, which deserve access to the same financial products and services other industries take for granted. Banking is essential for any business to flourish. We’re harnessing our payments and fintech expertise to make it available to every cannabis company that wants it.
How did you first approach banks to discuss their working with the cannabis industry—did that require careful effort or explanation?
The threat to public safety posed by cash-intensive industries is broadly recognized, and bank executives who feel a sense of responsibility to their communities want to do something about it. We created Dama to solve a serious problem, and like-minded, innovative leaders are eager to work with us because we help them be part of the solution. In addition, banks that partner with us can make a lot of money by receiving a generous revenue share—and they pay us nothing in return.
How have clients reacted to your suite of business and financial services? Do you have a most popular, or most utilized, offering?
Cannabis companies have been notoriously underserved with sustainable transparent business tools, so our entire suite of services has been extremely successful. The product that has seen the wildest adoption is our line of integrated smart safes. They immediately increase operational efficiency and security, and our customers love the quick access to funds.
What is the biggest misconception you encounter about doing business in the cannabis industry?
Many people still think that banking cannabis is illegal, when in fact FinCEN itself has provided some guidance on how to bank cannabis. And the Department of Justice (through Merrick Garland) recently stated that prosecuting state-legal cannabis operators is not a priority. The reality is that banking cannabis is a risk-based decision, much like banking alcohol or casinos. We adhere to Cole Memo guidelines, follow all FinCEN rules (as well as BSA/AML requirements), and stay current with state and federal regulations to ensure that our bank partners remain fully compliant.
Do you have a favorite achievement or success story since launching Dama that you could share?
The same thing happens regularly: We get an unsolicited call from an overjoyed, often incredulous Dama customer who had been kicked out of 10 banks before finding us and is now—finally—running their business safely and transparently without living in fear of a sudden account shutdown. Legal cannabis operators are hardworking people who deserve access to critical business tools such as banking, payments and payroll, and we’re proud to be able to provide them with access to it.
Thank you, Anh, for sharing your expertise and answering our questions. You can learn more about Anh Hatzopoulos and Dama Financial at DamaFinancial.com.