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Bank tosses gender binary: One Finance steps toward a gender-inclusive future

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Charlie Hunts — Photo courtesy of One
Charlie Hunts — Photo courtesy of One

The process of changing one's legal name is arduous and costly, and in financial institutions like banks, it can be even harder to do. As an excuse, companies cite "security concerns" or other reasons broadly accepted in the field.

Those institutions that do allow relatively easy name changes in one area, like on a credit card or simply how someone is addressed by customer support, rarely allow the same on printed statements, mobile apps, and the like.

Charlie Hunts, senior brand manager at One (formerly One Finance), is working to change that. The fintech company reached out to me to describe their vision of a digital banking system that does away with the gender binary. But what does that mean on an institutional level?

"At One," Hunts told me in a Zoom call, "we don't actually collect any gender markers. That's step one, right? When you see a name, you tend to make assumptions. So we have a concerted effort to remove that from the way we speak to our customers. Whether that's internally, just amongst ourselves... or whether that's to the customer, we're going to try to use gender-neutral or no pronouns at all."

Photo courtesy of One  

This effort includes the My Name program, which allows customers to easily change their first name across all their cards, statements, and "in-app experiences." One also allows joint accounts to be held by more than one person, regardless of marital status or other relationships, which Hunts says will open up financial freedom for non-heteronormative types.

Part of what allowed such a change is One's status as a fairly young company, albeit one backed by the older Coastal Community Bank. Hunts added, "I think the beauty of a startup, the beauty of this new wave of fintech, is that we kind of don't need to subscribe to the same historic norms that were seen before us." In this case, there aren't decades of documents, old software, ossified bureaucracy, or institutionalized bias in the way.

Hunts said that being Trans himself made the issue personal, too. He described some of the "mental gymnastics" his old bank's customer service did before he had changed his legal name: "They would call me both gender pronouns in the same conversation, just flipping without even realizing they were doing it. Or they were worried for security reasons that I was not who I said I was. I'd try to bring up my voice. I'd even have my wife pretend to be me — which is even worse for security — just so that we wouldn't have to go through this."

This isn't the first time Hunts has been an advocate for this kind of change. He worked in marketing for the Oakland A's and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and at both, he started movements for LGBTQ education and inclusion, such as planning the A's first Pride Night.

I asked Hunt if there were any growing pains doing the same at One. "To be honest, y'know, sometimes the Trans person or the marginalized community is the one who has to do all the emotional labor when it comes to education, or idea generation and building," he said. "But I'm really happy to tell you with a clean conscience that that was not the case here."

"Not every initiative was smooth in my career, but each made a tangible difference for customers or employees," Hunts said. "Because we're out here!"

For more information, go to www.onefinance.com