It’s almost a cliche to write in this lede that cannabis banking is a tough industry, because if you are any more than an extremely casual reader and consumer, you know it all too well. Since cannabis is still a Schedule I controlled substance and federally illegal, it is often next to impossible for cannabis businesses, especially the plant touching ones, to get access to the banking services they need. Blue Sky Bank is working to change that.
Not at all new to the financial industry, Blue Sky Bank, established in 1905, has always focused on community banking—They work to solve small business needs instead of just focusing on the major players. And now, cannabis is a part of that. And that’s not an industry secret—They have a clear, easily discoverable landing page where they announce in bold lettering “Blue Sky Bank Serves Cannabis Business Customers.” They go on to detail that commercial deposit and banking services are now available to Oklahoma cannabis business owners, and even offer an “In The Weeds” blog showcasing testimonials from cannabis business customers.
“We truly are a partner in banking,” explains Assistant Vice President and CRB Banking Lead Deborah Lin. “Cannabis business owners already have a sense of negativity when it comes to banking as many have had their accounts closed or pay excessive fees in order to bank,” says Lin. “Customers are often relieved after speaking with me as I’m able to provide a full education as to why we are able to support cannabis businesses and the requirements set forth by our federal regulators.”
Having an understanding and educated partner in banking is huge for the customer. Instead of dreading a monthly bill outlining charges and being billed for services, instead, you have the benefits of someone who truly understands the complexities of the regulations, your business’s best interests, and a true compliance partner. “I believe when you have open communication and educate the community about our program, they gain peace of mind and a clearer understanding of why we charge the fees we do.”
And the cannabis industry—not just in Oklahoma but nationally—has been largely treated like an unwanted afterthought. The narrative has been very much, “Yes, it’s technically legal in your state, but your resources, especially banking, is limited.” Blue Sky is working to make sure that is no longer the case.
Lin explains the suite of products offered to cannabis business owners is intentional and thoughtfully provides: ACH electronic payment services, mobile deposit, pin-debit merchant services, debit cards and checks, and earnings credits. There’s also the convenience of online banking and mobile business banking. Keeping safety and security top of mind for their customers and staff, Blue Sky also provides a private deposit drop off location as well as armed cash transport services. Providing safe and efficient deposit methods along with alternative options to operating solely in cash is more inviting and purposeful. Blue Sky Bank always has the customer’s best interest in mind asking, “How can we help give these business owners their time back?”
“You truly have a partner (in us) helping you stay as compliant as possible, and you get all the business functionality of any other business,” Lin continues. “Cannabis business owners pay almost three times the amount of tax as anybody else. So why don’t they get banking opportunities and products? Why should they have to be moving everything solely in cash when they know it’s difficult to trace and incurs additional costs. It’s labor intensive; it’s bulky, and it’s unsafe. And so for us, this is something that our community business owners were asking for, saying, ‘I already have all my other business and personal accounts with you; will you take my cannabis deposits too? And the short answer is, ‘Yes, we can.’”
Lin also highlights that even with the rapid growth of the cannabis industry over the past four years in the state, financial institutions are still leery of providing deposit services to cannabis businesses due to lack of understanding the cannabis industry and the impact on the financial institution.
“I’m an advocate for cannabis education and decriminalization. It’s important for our state and our country to have awareness of the medicinal benefits of cannabis and know they have alternatives to pharmaceutical drugs,” says Lin.
And on that note, Lin has her sights set even further than just on how to help local business owners in the cannabis realm. She would love to see banking become better for the industry in general as the country moves towards legalization and is working with other financial institutions in Oklahoma and nationwide sharing best practices and creating standards for cannabis banking.
“We look to other states with successful programs and have open communications with their commissioners and regulators so we are current of the movements in this industry. Ideally, we hope that this network of like minded cannabis friendly banks will be able to have a seat at the table when federal legalization finally comes,” says Lin. “This way the programs that we have helped create can be carried out at the federal level and more ease of banking and cashless ransactions are available to cannabis business owners.”
To learn more about Blue Sky Bank’s cannabis banking program, visit https://www.bluesky.bank/cannabis-banking.