Financial inclusion is a hot topic in our community, and for good reason. The banking industry faces a real challenge serving those people who don’t have access to traditional banking services.
According to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.’s latest annual survey on underbanked and unbanked, 7 percent of Americans didn’t have access to banking services in 2015. That represents nine million U.S. households. The number gets even bigger when you consider underbanked households, which are defined as those that supplement their bank accounts with nonbank products such as prepaid debit cards.
Some banks look at this market and only see the risks; others deem it outside of their target audience demographic. In either instance, the outcome is avoidance. Fintech leaders, by contrast, see an emerging opportunity and are proactively developing innovative solutions to fill the gap. Which poses the question: Is it possible for banks to do the same?
Deciding to move forward with this type of initiative must start with the data. One of the areas that we pay close attention to is application approval rates. We’ve been opening accounts via our digital platform since 2009, and we were initially surprised by lower-than-anticipated account approval rates. Why was this happening? As the number of consumers who want to open a bank account online increases, there are inherent risks that must be mitigated. From what we’ve learned, identity verification and funding methods for new accounts, for example, pose heightened challenges in the anonymous world of digital banking. As such, we have stringent controls in place to protect the bank from increasingly sophisticated and aggressive fraud attempts. This is a good thing, as security is not something we are willing to compromise.
However, we realize that not everyone we decline is due to potential fraud, and that therein lies a major opportunity. A large portion of declinations we see are a result of poor prior banking history. Here’s the kind of story we see often, which may resonate with you as well: A consumer overdrew their bank account and for one reason or another didn’t fix the issue immediately, so they get hit with an overdraft fee. Before long those fees add up and the customer owes hundreds of dollars as a result of the oversight. Frustrated and confused, the customer walks away without repaying the fees. Perhaps unknowingly, the customer now has a “black mark” on their banking reports and may face challenges in opening a new account at another bank. Suddenly, they find themselves needing to turn to nonbank options.
I am not excusing the behavior of that customer: Consumers need to take responsibility for managing their finances. But, shouldn’t we banks be accountable for asking ourselves if we’re doing enough to help customers with their personal financial management? Shouldn’t we allow room for instances in which consumers deserve a “second chance,” so to speak?
At Radius we believe the answer to that question is “yes,” which brings us back to my earlier point around opportunity. Just a few weeks ago we released a new personal checking account, Radius Rebound, a virtual second chance checking account. We now have a way to provide a convenient, secure, FDIC-insured checking account to customers we used to have to turn down. In doing so, we’re able to provide banking services to a broader audience in the communities we serve across the country.
Because of the virtual nature of the account, I was particularly encouraged by the FDIC’s finding that online banking is on the rise among the underbanked, and that smartphone usage for banking related activities is rapidly increasing as well. Fintech companies are already utilizing the mobile platform to increase economic inclusion; we believe that Radius is on the forefront of banks doing the same, and look forward to helping consumers regain their footing with banks.
Let me be clear, providing solutions for the unbanked and underbanked is more than a “feel good” opportunity for a bank—it’s a strategic business opportunity. A takeaway from the FDIC report is that the majority of underbanked households think banks have no interest in serving them, and a large portion do not trust banks. It’s upon banks to address and overcome those issues. At the same time, nonbank alternatives are increasing in availability and adoption. Like anything worth pursuing, there are risks involved and they need to be properly scoped and mitigated. But while some banks still can’t see beyond the risks, I think ignoring this opportunity would be the biggest risk of all.