In more ways than one, Billie Simmons is helping LGBTQ+ people live their best lives.
The 29-year-old tech expert is a co-founder and the chief operating officer of Daylight, a digital banking app created by and for the LGBTQ+ community. Simmons and her co-founders, chief executive officer Rob Curtis and chief technology officer Paul Barnes, consciously shaped the service to address economic challenges and values specific to queer people.
“Our identities are what make us good at building for our community,” Simmons says, “because we’re solving problems that we ourselves have faced.”
For starters, Daylight customers can choose the name on their debit cards, regardless of what’s on their legal documents. It’s an option very few big banks allow, despite research that shows 1 in 5 people who have transitioned have not been able to update all of their records.
From Simmons’ perspective, getting the name you actually use on your card shouldn’t be a unique perk. It should be the baseline standard in banking.
Before coming to Daylight, Simmons, born in the U.S. but raised in England, was at an impasse on her own project, an app meant to guide LGBTQ+ people to safe spaces and services. But she still felt “desperate to help my community with all the skills and knowledge that I had,” she says.
Serendipitously, that’s when Curtis, with whom she’d shared a panel at an Out in Tech event, came calling. It was the spring of 2020, and he needed help with user testing for a banking service he was developing for LGBTQ+ folks. Simmons agreed, and while recounting the process of her own name change and the roadblocks faced in getting her cards updated, something clicked. Simmons realized she’d normalized negative banking experiences.
“I’d never really thought about it that deeply. A lot of things suck about transitioning, and you kind of just get through them,” she says. “But it doesn’t have to be that way. We can absolutely do better than that.”
Much improvement is also needed in terms of economic equality for LGBTQ+ Americans, who face an income disparity of at least 11% compared to the median wage. Transgender women are at a particular disadvantage, earning about 40% less than the quote-unquote typical worker.
While a banking app can’t directly change systemic issues in the job market, it can maximize the money a person does have. That’s why Daylight customers earn up to 10% cash back at about 100 queer-owned businesses, plus a thousand or so additional merchants. Customers can elect to either keep that money or donate it to approved LGBTQ+ organizations. They can also rate participating companies in the app as a means of helping others “spend in line with their values.”
“Ultimately, it's about putting more money into the hands of queer people who need it,” Simmons says.
Daylight has an educational slant, too: An in-app tool provides comprehensive, guided goal-setting for gender-affirming procedures like top surgery and hair removal with estimated costs provided. Data for this feature was gathered online and cross-sourced with community members and staff, many of whom are trans or nonbinary and have managed these expenses themselves, Simmons says.
The latest addition to Daylight’s offerings tackles yet another economic issue: the often-exorbitant costs of having children as an LGBTQ+ American. Simmons herself hopes to have children in the next few years, she says. Beyond the financial aspects, there are legal issues to consider, like establishing parental recognition in accordance with state laws. Choosing, then navigating, a route to bringing a child into a family can be quite complicated.
“Family-building is more expensive for the queer community,” Simmons says. “Whether you go through adoption, IVF or surrogacy, the average cost is $55,000 more than for a cisgender, heterosexual couple.”
Cue Daylight Grow, a subscription-based family-planning service that’s launching soon. Experts shepherd prospective parents through the entire journey, from choosing the right family-building path for them (surrogacy, adoption and in vitro fertilization are just a few options), tips for financing the process, legal guidance, and vetted service provider recommendations. Those looking for community support can meet other parents-to-be through online groups and in-person events.
Daylight sets a new precedent for banks by bridging personal finance and activism, and Simmons has been a key player in that effort. But she’s also setting an example by being visible as a trans COO of a tech company. Simmons has become a role model for others — something she never had.
Even now, Simmons says, she can only think of a few transgender founders — and even fewer executives of big companies. It’s a “massive added bonus,” she says, if anyone’s inspired by her or called to action in some way.
But her main objective is, of course, to make an impact with the actual work she’s doing at Daylight.
“A lot of us are up against a lot going on in our lives, not just our work,” Simmons says. “Any support that I can give to other trans people, other queer people and, frankly, any underrepresented group feels really good.”