During the pandemic, the combined wealth of U.S. billionaires increased by almost 70%, while millions of Americans struggled with job loss and the economic impact of the pandemic. To Francene Chadwick, CEO and Co-Founder of Serve, that was another sure sign that the financial system is broken and needs fixing.
Chadwick and Todd Youngblood founded Holly Springs-HQ’d Serve in October 2020 to close the wealth inequality gap. Youngblood’s background is in technology and security, including work for U.S. Bank. Also on the Serve team is a part-time Operations Manager Heba Gibani.
Serve—which has been formed as a public benefit company—replaces traditional financial tools with a wealth management tool called a Digital Purpose Trust, which allows people to build their wealth and invest in their local community.
“All the systems that exist now, that capitalists operate in, are designed to be extractive,” Chadwick said. “That’s not why they were created necessarily, it’s just a byproduct—they were designed to support individual wealth, not collective wealth. So it’s no surprise that the wealthy keep on getting richer and the poor keep on getting poorer.”
Chadwick spent over a decade doing management consulting for local businesses in Canada. With Serve, her goal is to continue supporting the sustainable growth of local economies by using Digital Purpose Trusts, which work side-by-side with someone’s bank account and protect and steward assets. Serve will be free to use for individuals, though not for organizations.
In the current financial system, it is possible to invest in things like oil and gas, but there is no way to invest in, say, the restaurant that was hit hard during the pandemic. That’s the gap Chadwick wants to fill by using Digital Purpose Trusts, which someone can create around a local cause, like supporting local restaurants or investing in affordable housing projects.
The significance of using a Digital Purpose Trust is that a one-time donation produces dividends indefinitely. And everybody who joins the trust gets equity and gets a return through any revenue-generating opportunities such as, for example, rent derived from an affordable housing trust.
“It just makes sense,” Chadwick said. “It’s an opportunity for individuals and current governments and purpose-driven organizations to really have their money make a difference. So not just a one-time donation, but something that creates economic power and can turn one-time donations into continuing dividends for the people who are in those trusts.”
Many philanthropies invest in the market and extractive financial services, but Serve gives these organizations a chance to invest in local communities and see the impact of their donations in real time. Every $1 invested in a community equates to $5.
Chadwick has seen the need for a tool like Serve that promotes the economic development of local economies in the town she grew up in. After the cod fishery industry collapsed in Newfoundland, the economies of the province’s small fishing towns—like Chadwick’s hometown of St. John’s—suffered and unemployment soared.
Trusts as a Technology
Trusts are a fairly new technology that are gaining popularity as an economic vehicle to protect and steward assets, Chadwick said. Oprah Winfrey, Donald Trump and Joe Biden all have trusts. But Serve is the first to make Digital Purpose Trusts.
“There’s no reason why we can’t do that at the micro level in our communities,” Chadwick said.
Chadwick’s goal is for people to be able to make a trust as easily as they can open a bank account. Serve is actively looking for investment for product development. Chadwick said they plan to launch a minimum viable product (MVP) in the next six months with a few impact-oriented organizations as customers, and then execute a broader launch by the end of next year.