Understanding the Cannabis Banking Opportunity

The legal cannabis industry is growing exponentially each year, creating extraordinary opportunities for financial institutions to offer services to this largely underbanked, niche market.

Revenue from direct marijuana businesses alone is expected to exceed $48 billion by 2025, part of a larger $125 billion cannabis opportunity that includes hemp, CBD and other support businesses, according to information from Arcview and BDS Analytics.

In the last few years, the number of banks providing services to cannabis businesses has increased, along with an expansion of the products they are offering. Financial institutions are moving far beyond being “a place to park cash’ which defined the pioneer era of cannabis banking. Today, our bank clients are approaching the industry as a new market to deploy all of their existing products and services, including online cash management, ACH origination, wire transfers, lending, insurance, payments and wealth management. Additionally, a contingent of banks are trailblazing bespoke solutions.

For banks wanting to better understand what the current cannabis banking opportunity looks like, we recommend starting by:

Exploring the Entire Cannabis Ecosystem
A common pitfall for banks considering a cannabis line of business is failing to grasp the true market opportunity. It’s important that bankers explore the entire supply chain: growers, cultivators, manufacturers, distributors and delivery operations and public-facing retail and medical dispensaries that make up the direct cannabis ecosystem.

Beyond that, there is a supporting cast of businesses that service the industry: armored couriers, security firms, consultants, accountants, lighting companies, packaging companies, doctors who prescribe medical cannabis, and many more. These are not plant-touching businesses, but they require additional scrutiny and often struggle with non-cannabis-friendly institutions. All this is in addition to the significant hemp market, which represents an additional $40 billion opportunity by 2025.

Thinking Beyond Fees
Aside from low-cost deposits, many financial institutions initially entered this niche line of business for additional fee income. While the industry still provides strong fee opportunities, including account opening fees, monthly account fees per license, deposit fees and fees for services such as ACH and cash pickup, these can vary greatly from market to market and will decrease as more financial institutions build programs.

Instead of limiting their focus to fees and deposits, banks should understand the full breadth of the services and solutions they can offer these underserved businesses. Most services that a bank provides their average business customer can be offered to legal cannabis businesses — and there is a significant opportunity to create additional services. We believe there are products this industry needs that haven’t been created by banks yet.

Banks thinking about where to start and what products to add should consider common challenges that legal cannabis businesses face: electronic payment products, cash logistics, fair lending and the numerous difficulties around providing opportunities to new business owners and social equity entrepreneurs. Bankers should become familiar with the industry; find out what it’s most similar to — namely agriculture, food processing and manufacturing — as well as how it is unique. That’s where the real opportunity lies.

Building a Scalable Program
To safely service this industry and meet examiner expectations, banks need to demonstrate they understand the risks and institutional impact of banking cannabis and have the capabilities to accomplish the following, at a minimum:

  • Consistent, transparent and thorough monitoring of their cannabis business clients and their activity, to demonstrate that only state legal activity and the associated funds are entering the financial system.
  • Timely and thorough filing of currency transaction reports (CTRs) and suspicious activity reports (SARs).
  • Ability to gracefully exit the line of business, should the bank’s strategy or the industry’s legality change.
  • An understanding of the beneficial ownership structures, particularly when working with multi-state operators.

Performing these tasks manually is time consuming, prone to error and not suitable for scale. Technology allows banks to automate the most tedious and complicated aspects of cannabis banking compliance and effectively grow their programs. Look for technology that offers advanced due diligence during onboarding, detailed transaction monitoring, automated SAR/CTR reporting and account monitoring to ensure full transparency and portfolio management in your program.

Finding a Trusted Partner
When it comes to partners, banks must consider whether their partner can quickly adapt to changes in rules and regulations. Do their tools support visibility into transaction level sales data, peer comparisons and historical performance? Have they worked with your examiners? What do they offer to help banks service both direct and indirect businesses? Can they help their institutions offer new and innovative products to this line of business?

Banks weighing which partners they should take on this journey need to consider their viability for the long run.