Bank Systems & Technology is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.


12:46 PM
Connect Directly

Targeting the Unbanked/Underbanked With the Right Solutions

Banks already know the vast opportunities awaiting them in the underbanked market. Now, they are searching for the right IT formula to finally tap these elusive customers.

The market for traditional retail banking customers can be likened to a once overflowing well whose water level has been slowly dropping over the years. The volume might level off or even increase for short intervals as banks consolidate and move into new markets and new channels. But this only obscures the possibility that banks might have to find a new source of revenue before the well runs dry.

Fortunately, banks have recognized the situation and now are redoubling their efforts to pursue previously untapped sources of income. And their divining rods are pointed directly at two market segments -- the unbanked and underbanked. To coax these fresh reserves to the surface, banks need to employ a slew of technologies and products at their disposal before someone else jumps their claim.

"KeyBank and other financial institutions realize there is huge market potential for these individuals," says Jeffery Comi, product manager of the Cleveland-based bank's payroll card product, PayWorks. "You're seeing institutions trying to capture this market rather than steal customers away from other banks. It's easier to court [the unbanked/underbanked] than to court other banks' customers." >>

Although numbers seem to vary, according to BearingPoint (McClean, Va.), there are 28 million unbanked and 44.7 million underbanked people in the United States. Together, they represent a potential market of 40 million households with little or no current relationship with a financial institution. Instead, these people tend to frequent alternative financial services providers, such as check cashing facilities and money transfer outlets. In fact, Chicago-based The Center for Financial Services Innovation (CFSI) reports that Americans spend at least $10.9 billion on more than 324 million alternative financial transactions a year. So for banks, there definitely is money to be had in this market segment.

Taking Aim at the Unbanked and Underbanked

Of course, a financial institution has to do a bit of homework before courting the unbanked and underbanked. The challenges are many, ranging from cultural and language barriers to banks' own sometimes inflexible business models. First, banks need to determine just who these people are. "It's a very diverse market," says CFSI research director Katy Jacob.

While the unbanked segment tends to be comprised of minorities and recent immigrants -- often with little money and education -- the underbanked segment is harder to pin down, notes Jennifer Tescher, director of CFSI. The underbanked can consist of educated immigrants, middle-income individuals with bad credit and even military personnel, she relates. But banks should not ignore the unbanked, presuming the underbanked are an easier, more-profitable target, Tescher stresses. "People move in and out of the banking system all the time," she says. "Of the 30 percent of the people in the [BearingPoint] survey who were unbanked, half had a bank account in the past."

So how does a bank hone in on these potential customers? As a fundamental starting point, John Weisel, managing director with Accenture's (Chicago) global banking industry group, suggests banks should take a three-pronged approach. "First, I would look at my existing customers," Weisel explains. "Then I'd go after the employer base [commercial clients]. Finally, I'd use good old-fashioned market analytics to see who exactly is in the community."

Banks' existing customer base can yield a veritable gold mine of information, experts agree. There are plenty of accountholders using only one or two products from their financial institutions. This certainly qualifies them as underbanked, asserts CFSI's Tescher. "These are single-product customers who might not be thought of as very profitable," she says. "Look at your single-product customers and think about them differently," Tescher advises.

Typically, banks might have tried to jettison these customers as unprofitable, or they might simply ignore them. According to an Accenture survey, however, bank customers want their financial institutions to inform them of additional products and services from which they may benefit, but nine in 10 respondents said tellers and telephone service representatives rarely, if ever, inform them of useful bank offerings. Further, only 6 percent said their bank tries "too hard" to up-sell them, compared with 67 percent who said they would like to see a bit more effort to serve them.

Given the untapped opportunity to cross-sell, "Banks need to understand how many of this type of customer they already have," explains James Joaquin, president and CEO of Xoom, a San Francisco-based provider of remittance processing tools for financial institutions. "Customer-profiling technology can show banks who the low-hanging fruit is. For example, you can have a customer from India who has an account with your bank, but he's still doing remittances with Western Union." Once a bank has this knowledge, it then can design a service to entice this customer to consider using the bank for his money transfer needs as well.

Similarly, mining commercial client databases also can provide access to the unbanked/underbanked consumer. Frank D'Angelo, president of Milwaukee-based Metavante's payments solutions group, says that although his company can provide banks with technology to zero in on these consumers, "It's usually the banks' commercial customers who give them access to this segment."

Card-Carrying Consumers

For example, payroll card initiatives -- in which people's pay is loaded onto a card rather than given to them as a check -- provide a ready-made audience for banks, D'Angelo offers. Since it can be considered a value-added service to commercial customers, "This product would be sold more through a bank's treasury services department," D'Angelo adds. "From the financial institution's point of view, it provides stickiness to commercial customers" in addition to creating a relationship with a new customer.

KeyBank ($93 billion in total assets) has been offering a payroll card product for approximately seven years. The PayWorks card is an unbranded payroll debit card that employers can offer to their workers, explains KeyBank's Comi. "We work with the employers to identify their employees who are unbanked," he says. "This is an ideal tool for use by these individuals."

The benefit of payroll cards for employees is that they no longer need to visit check cashing facilities and pay a fee to get their money. They also no longer have to worry about walking around with a wad of cash in their pockets. The payroll card is used like a debit card where the individual spends money as needed, can obtain cash at ATMs or purchase goods. KeyBank's card is PIN-based, like a traditional debit card. The biggest difference is that it is not necessarily tied to an account. For employers, the payroll cards eliminate a good deal of paper processing.

While KeyBank has chosen not to brand the card -- employers "can use [the payroll card] as an extension of the company, not the bank," Comi relates -- banks certainly can place their brand on a card. "We've struggled with that [decision]," explains Comi. "Our thought was that we were taking these unbanked individuals and giving them a kind of bank card, but they may not be ready to go right to a branded bank card in one swoop. We thought they might feel more comfortable [with an unbranded card]."

Comfort level is something banks must keep in mind when dealing with the unbanked/underbanked, stresses Tim Ramsey, senior manager in the payments and transactions fulfillment practice at BearingPoint. A significant portion of the market may not trust banks for one reason or another, he remarks.

1 of 3
Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Register for Bank Systems & Technology Newsletters
Bank Systems & Technology Radio
Archived Audio Interviews
Join Bank Systems & Technology Associate Editor Bryan Yurcan, and guests Karen Massey and Jerry Silva from IDC Financial Insights, for a conversation about the firm's 11th annual FinTech rankings.