Fintech Mobile & Online Payments

Millions of consumers soon won’t need a bank account

Millions of consumers soon won’t need a bank account. Image: Shaun Weston
Written by Brett King

There are multiple options that allow an un(der)banked individual to participate in the global economy without a real bank or bank account, says Brett King.

Traditionally, if you wanted to move money around, save cash, pay a bill, purchase something at a store, or otherwise have some sort of systemic access to your cash as you moved around, you needed a ‘bank’. In fact, you couldn’t do any of these things in the past without a bank. Despite the fact you may have opted to simply use cash and stay ‘off the grid’, at some point, to do a significant transaction, you needed a bank.

These days, it’s getting harder and harder to be cash-only, yet fortunately there are multiple options that allow an un(der)banked individual to participate in the global economy without a real bank. Here are a couple examples of thriving alternatives to banks that provide the utility of banking.

Checking/current account

Debit cards and gift cards, Western Union account, cash, PayPal account, prepaid telephone account, Apple Store account, Starbucks card, and so on.

The above examples enable a consumer to ‘store’ cash in an account and pay at various merchants without having a traditional bank account. While they may not offer interest on savings, the fact is that most unbanked consumers likely live paycheck to paycheck and aren’t really going to be swayed by the interest rates of term deposits, or CDs of 1.25%.

The Starbucks mobile app is an incredibly successful digital payments system.Apple has 400 million account holders holding an Apple Store or iTunes account, which is more than the top three global banks have in retail banking customers. Starbucks, which processes more than two million transactions every week in the US, took in deposits of $3bn on its in-store app-based debit or gift card this year1. This puts is ahead of the 6,985 smaller institutions in the US who on average did around $185m in deposits in 2011, and the 440 midsize institutions who averaged $2.6bn in deposits. Imagine that! A coffee company that’s better at taking deposits than 95% of the FDIC-insured banks in the US, and it doesn’t even have a banking license.

The same is true for M-Pesa in Kenya, which has recently started offering interest on savings and micro-lending facilities. M-Pesa grew to 17 million customers in just six years, almost 50% of the Kenyan population2. It does enough money through its mobile-based simple ‘current account’ to represent 25% of Kenya’s GDP3. The banks in Kenya can’t even come close to this type of financial inclusion for the unbanked. This is all before we even start with the close-to-$500bn in prepaid cards that have been deployed in the US and China alone in 20124.

Footnotes for the paragraph above

1. Mobile Commerce Daily
2. M-Pesa/Safaricom
3. The Economist
4. NY Times, Wall Street Journal

Personal loans and high-yield savings

P2P lenders, payday lenders, retailer layway/laybuy and store card schemes.

This year, P2P lending has improved its viability as a new asset class. Lending Club announced just this last month that it has now exceeded $1bn in total loans, and by January is expected to be lending at the rate of more than $100m per month. Considering it just passed $500m in loans back in March, this is phenomenal recent growth. Lending Club maintains an average annual interest rate of 13.34%, compared to 16% average APR on credit cards. Lending Club has produced average total returns of 8.8% on ‘savings’ over the last 21 months of operation. During the same timeframe, the S&P 500 has had 10 negative quarters and has yielded average total returns of 4.1%5.

For the high-credit-quality borrowers we serve, our risk-based pricing model often represents hundreds or even thousands of dollars in savings over traditional bank credit cards, which would charge them the same high rates as everyone else. Our rapid growth is being driven by those high-credit-quality borrowers who have been underserved by the traditional model. – Renaud Laplanche, CEO Lending Club

P2P propositions in other markets are rapidly growing, too. Zopa in the UK has lent over £250m to date, and the total UK P2P industry is now approaching £400m (including the likes of Ratesetter and Funding Circle). But perhaps more interestingly, Zopa’s growth is increasing, with growth of 55%+ year on year (YoY) and 90% YoY growth just in the last two months. Zopa’s defaults are below 0.8%, which represents best-in-industry performance and are a fraction of the best performing banks in the UK6.

Payday lending has been hot the last couple of years too, with the likes of Wonga in the UK racking up impressive growth. As of June 2012, Wonga had racked up more than 5.2 million loans to its customer base7, and Wonga is expected to exceed $1bn in revenue in 20138.

Considering that the UK lending market has essentially remained flat over the last five years (CAGR of 0.2% between 2007-11), and that P2P lending now represents roughly 3% of the UK retail lending market (non-mortgage lending)9, that’s nothing to be sneezed at!

Footnotes for the section above

5. Lending Club
6. Zopa
8. The Sun
9 See Retail Lending in the United Kingdom MarketLine Report, October 2012.


In a recent post, Chris Skinner from the Financial Services Club argued strongly (and competently, one might add) that many of these new bank-like capabilities sit on top of rails built by the banking industry, and that without those rails, much of this new capability couldn’t get off the ground. That’s true, but just like many other industries in recent years, disruptive business models based on new technologies such as smartphones, social media or simply better, cheaper distribution methods, are replacing elements of traditional banking.

A banker may not think of Starbucks or Apple as replacing a checking or current account, and may quite forcibly argue that it’s rubbish to say that these new players are replacing the role of the bank, and rightly so. However, when you look at the unbanked and underbanked consumer market, you can easily see prepaid cards, P2P lending and other models taking away business that would otherwise have traditionally gone to banks.

Many banks would likewise be happy about this, because serving the un(der)banked is costly with outmoded, cost-heavy distribution models. For the likes of Lending Club, Zopa, M-Pesa, Starbucks and others, however, their cost of distribution is fractional compared with the big banks. New distribution models are opening up bank-like services to those that can’t afford to engage with the big banks (who really don’t want ‘those’ customers anyway). Sounds like a marriage made in heaven, if you ask me.

Here’s what we’re doing about it at Movenbank …

– This article is reproduced with kind permission. Some minor changes have been made to reflect BankNXT style considerations. You can read the original article here. Main image: Shaun Weston

About the author

Brett King

Brett King is a four times bestselling author, a renowned futurist and keynote speaker, the host of the Breaking Banks radio show/podcast and the founder/CEO of Moven. His latest book 'Breaking Banks' debuted in the top 3 on Amazon's Bestseller's list in the US, France, Canada, Germany and Australia. 'Bank 3.0', his previous book, was released in 8 languages and ranked as a finance bestseller in 19 countries.

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