New Big Bank Digital Ventures Could Threaten Community Banks

August 14th, 2018

big-banks-8-14-18.pngAs if community banks don’t have enough to worry about, along comes Finn. And Access. And in the not-too-distant future, Greenhouse. All three are new digital banking platforms that have been introduced or are being test run by some of the country’s largest banks—JPMorgan Chase & Co., Citizens Financial Group and Wells Fargo & Co., respectively—and they mark a significant escalation in the digital banking space, with more new entrants to come. For example, Citigroup—at $1.9 trillion in assets, the country’s third largest bank—announced in late March that it plans going nationwide with a new mobile banking platform, although it hasn’t disclosed an exact release date.

The digital banking space is already crowded with countless fintech neobanks that work with bank partners behind the scenes to offer banking services along with unique personal financial management capabilities to millennials and other digitally-savvy consumers. Included in the mix are somewhat older challenger banks, like Simple, which is owned by BBVA Compass Bancshares (which is itself owned by Spanish banking conglomerate Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria); well-established direct banks like Bank of Internet USA, a subsidiary of $10 billion asset BOFI Holdings, which started operations in 1999; and unique players like Marcus, a digital platform launched in 2016 by investment bank Goldman Sachs, which combines an automated consumer loan capability with various deposit products—all aimed at a lower-brow customer base than Goldman has traditionally focused on.

“There is not a single incumbent bank in the U.S. with more than 20 branches who would surprise me if they launched a digital subsidiary,” says Peter Wannemacher, an analyst at Forrester Research who focuses on digital strategy in the financial services space. “What I mean by that is, I think every bank in America is considering this option.”

Why so much activity now when digital banking—including mobile—isn’t exactly new? “Incumbent banks are under a lot of pressure,” Wannemacher says. “Some of that’s market pressure. A lot of it is internal pressure. That is, their boards or their C-level executives desperately want to be relevant and be talked about in the digital space.”

Finn, which is branded as “Finn by Chase,” was launched nationwide by JPMorgan Chase (the largest U.S. bank with $2.5 trillion in assets) in June of this year as an all-mobile bank that is separate and distinct from its existing consumer banking product set, including its branch, online and mobile banking distribution channels. Finn includes a checking account with a debit card, a savings account, remote deposit and a multi-featured financial management tool set. Melissa Feldsher, a managing director who heads up the Finn operation, says that Chase is responding to what its research showed was “an unmet need” by a “smaller growing portion of the country that was truly looking for an end-to-end mobile banking experience.” Feldsher says that Finn is specifically targeting all “digitally savvy” consumers rather than just millennials, although she adds that those individuals “will tend to skew younger.”

Wells Fargo, the third largest U.S. bank with $1.9 trillion assets, is developing its own standalone mobile banking app, called Greenhouse. “Greenhouse is currently in a limited customer and team member pilot, and will expand to several states for iPhone users later this year on the Apple App store,” a spokesperson wrote in an email. “We will determine the national rollout following the pilot.” According to published reports, Greenhouse offers a spending account for paying bills, a savings account, debit card and financial management tools. Like Finn, this is a separate offering than what Wells customers receive through its consumer bank.

Taking a somewhat different approach is $155 billion asset Citizens Financial, the country’s 13th largest bank, which in July launched Citizens Access, described as a “nationwide direct-to-consumer digital bank” that will operate separately from its branch operation. Unlike Finn and Greenhouse, Access will only offer savings accounts and certificates of deposit. Citizens Access President John Rosenfeld says direct bank deposits are growing three to five times faster than brick-and-mortar deposits nationally. “This is an opportunity to extend our footprint [so] we can now reach all 50 states,” he says, “whereas we couldn’t do that before with our branch-based web product,” which Rosenfeld says was only available in Citizen’s traditional market. “We didn’t have the capability to open accounts outside the states we were in. Now we do,” he adds.

As large banks target consumers nationwide with these new direct banking ventures, community banks will be under pressure to up their game. “The larger banks are investing more in digital capabilities … and I think that community banks, to compete, are going to have to really evolve their digital capabilities,” Rosenfeld says.

jmilligan

Jack Milligan is editor-in-chief of Bank Director, an information resource for directors and officers of financial companies. You can connect with Jack on LinkedIn or follow @BankDirectorEd on Twitter.