Global Matters

How one fintech gives the undocumented a financial identity

Founded by children of immigrants, Maza is bringing a new generation into the digital financial system.

The most basic actions in the digital world — ordering takeout, streaming movies or music, hailing a rideshare or opening a bank account — require a financial identity.  


“It’s nearly impossible to pay with cash for a lot of these services,” says Luciano Arango, CEO and cofounder of Los Angeles-based Maza, a financial platform that helps undocumented immigrants from Latin America obtain their individual tax identification number (ITIN) — which can open a number of digital doors.  


ITINs unlock digital opportunities. 


With an ITIN, underserved communities can get a driver’s license, health insurance, establish credit, file taxes – in short, participate in the modern digital world.  


Maza customers sign up for free and within minutes are given a U.S. bank account and a Maza Visa debit card, both issued by Blue Ridge Bank, N.A., Member FDIC.  

“The ability to pay for these services for the first time is actually a common compliment that we get from our customers, and all that happens through the Visa network,” says Arango. 



As children of immigrants, Maza founders (L to R) Robbie Figueroa, COO, Luciano Arango, CEO and Siggy Bilstein, CTO are building the platform that their parents needed.



Banking breaks an exploitative cycle. 


Lack of access to traditional banking services can leave undocumented workers reliant on services such as loan sharks and pawn brokers. And dealing primarily in a bearer asset like cash makes them more susceptible to theft. Maza wants to break that cycle and help hardworking immigrants reach their first step toward citizenship: proof of identity. 


“It’s a trust game. If you don’t know someone and can’t pull up their record, what are you going to do? You’re going to charge a lot of fees,” Said Arango.  


“We're making a big investment in [these communities] because we believe that they're able to achieve a lot. If they're successful and we continue servicing them, we'll be successful too.”  


Building financial history 


For Arango, launching Maza was a personal endeavor, inspired by conversations he had with his mother, who emigrated from Colombia and eventually became a U.S. citizen and now works as a real estate agent. “Growing up, my parents were both undocumented, so I've always felt like there was an opportunity to help out this community in general, particularly Spanish speakers,” he said. “Not having a social security number is one of the first barriers they face.”  


Maza customers, including many Latino students, are often in the process of getting documentation, but the process can be tedious and long. Maza helps automate the ID application process, and works with its banking partners to establish the free bank account and Visa debit card, while they wait for their government-issued ID (a potential three-months-long process).  


With a bank account and debit card, Maza helps customers build a financial history that can help unlock better rates and opportunities. “If you need credit, you need to have a trusted trail of what your income is, what you spend your money on, and so on,” said Arango. “The biggest thing about being banked is that you have something that other people can trust.” 


It’s all based on trust. 


Maza partnered with Visa through the Visa Fintech Fast Track program, which helps fintechs accelerate bringing their payment solutions to market. “We're very happy to work with Visa because it also provides that comfort for our customers. We talk about trust. When they sign up, the first thing they do is they receive a Visa card that they can start using for the first time. It's the first trust point, like, "Oh, these are some of the benefits that I can get if I am banked." 


Owning a home is the ultimate dream for a lot of immigrants, notes Arango. But it all starts with identification. Using a Visa card to build a transaction history, building income, and eventually using those resources to establish good credit and get a mortgage loan for a first home — “that’s the American Dream,” adds Arango.  


Learn more about Maza and Visa Fintech Fast Track program

Tag: Financial Inclusion

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