Consumer banking relationships are being reshaped by mobile financial services, according to market research publisher Packaged Facts in the report, Unbanked and Underbanked Consumers in the U.S. For the unbanked, these mobile services offer a realistic way to expand economic inclusion.
“Mobile financial services can provide account information from virtually any location, at any time. Along with this information, they can provide tools consumers can use to manage their finances, conduct transactions, and avoid potential problems such as overdrafts, late fees, and fraud. As a result, this technology has the potential to make banking relationships more convenient and sustainable for households that otherwise may experience such concerns,” says David Sprinkle, research director, Packaged Facts. “The Bluebird card account by American Express is an excellent example of what we view as an ideal candidate for smartphone-enabled unbanked and underbanked.”
Mobile phones have fast become something nearly every consumer — including the unbanked — has: data published in the report show that, as of 2015, some 93% of unbanked adults have a mobile phone. With mobile phones reaching saturation among the unbanked, text-based alerts can be a reality for all. More importantly for the financial services industry, almost two-thirds have a smartphone, giving these consumers access to 24/7 mobile banking convenience and the potential to use banking services at lower costs.
Black or Hispanic Millennials (those age 18-34) are more than twice as likely to be unbanked than banked. These younger minority groups are also major smartphone users, which provides the potential to connect them with mobile banking and payment options.
Yet while smartphone usage penetration among unbanked 18-24s, Hispanic and black consumers is relatively strong, household income remains a stumbling block: only 44% of adults living in homes with an income under $25K have smartphones. Older unbanked consumers are also far less likely to have a smartphone. Just a quarter of adults age 65 and up have a smartphone, which suggests smartphones are simply not the answer for reaching this group.
The good news is that mobile banking usage rates suggest real success in engaging underbanked consumers, who may be more likely to rely on it as their primary banking method than fully-banked households. Thus for younger and middle-aged unbanked, a brighter, more connected financial services world lies ahead.
But fully realizing the potential of mobile financial services for the unbanked will also mean engaging the unbanked more directly and more personally, advises Packaged Facts. Mobile phones can provide the tools, but people and institutions must ideally provide the guidance, education and one-to-one interaction necessary to create longer-term financial relationships and proper, proactive use of mobile tools and technology.