An article in Forbes earlier this month about the traction of digital banks caught my attention. A survey of U.S. consumers conducted by Cornerstone Advisors showed that traction among many of these new neobanks (I use this term and digital bank interchangeably in this article) is not happening as quickly as many of us expected. According to the survey only 3% of millennials have their primary checking account at a digital bank like Chime, Simple or Moven.
The survey also found that only 7 million deposit accounts have been opened at digital banks and that only Ally, Chime and BankMobile have more than one million deposit accounts. Simple, the first digital neobank to launch almost 10 years ago, has just 517,000 accounts according to the survey.
Now, when Chime announced they had raised $200 million in March they claimed to have opened 3 million FDIC-insured bank accounts. So, it is quite possible this survey is undercounting the total or that maybe there is a difference between an open account and a funded one. Regardless, we have a long way to go before any digital bank can challenge the size of even a midsized regional bank.
There are, of course, many other neobanks not included in the survey. At LendIt Fintech USA 2019 last month the CEO of MoneyLion, Dee Choubey, said that his company has more than 4 million users today. Another example is Square Cash, which has over 15 million monthly active users and with the debit card some consumers are using this as a primary bank account. So, one could even include Square Cash as a neobank (Square is in the process of applying for a banking license).
All this should be put in the context of a special report in The Economist earlier in the month with the cover exclaiming “Tech’s raid on the banks”. One of the many interesting stories in that report was about “Flanker banks” where banks create a new brand to compete with themselves. We have seen that at JPMorgan Chase with Finn and Greenhouse by Wells Fargo and there are numerous examples internationally. But according to the Cornerstone Advisors survey Finn is not getting much traction yet – their number of 47,000 accounts is surprising, if not shocking, to me. Greenhouse is still in limited rollout.