Companies that want to reach the underbanked market should understand the different market segments, Michael Hermann, research director of the Center for Financial Services Innovation, told an audience yesterday at the third annual Underbanked Financial Services Forum in Miami. The center released preliminary findings from its market-segmentation research today. It found that there are 40 million U.S. households, which means about 106 million individuals, are unbanked or underbanked. The center defines unbanked consumers as those without bank accounts and underbanked consumers as those who may have bank accounts but who still receive some financial services through alternative providers such as check cashers and payday lenders, Hermann said. A survey of 2,799 underbanked adults ages 18 and older found that respondents had a median annual household income of $26,390 and a mean annual household income of $47,500. Almost half (47%) of the respondents said they held full-time jobs, and 11% said they held part-time jobs. The survey also found that, among the unemployed respondents, 52% were retired or were homemakers, Herman said. The center received enough information to determine credit scores for 79% of the respondents. It found that 25% had a prime credit score, 42% had a thin or no credit file and 33% were considered subprime. This suggests that financial-services companies should not equate underbanked with subprime, Jennifer Tescher, director of the Chicago-based center, said during  a separate forum presentation today. Unbanked consumers cited not having enough money as the main reason for not having a bank account, Hermann said during his presentation. Underbanked consumers have financial goals, with 70% saying that saving for emergencies is "extremely important" or "very important," 65% saying saving for retirement is "extremely important" or "very important" and 49% saying the same about saving for college costs. Hermann told the audience that understanding the different groups of underbanked consumers could lead to better product design, marketing and risk management. "We can't address the underbanked as a single monolith," he said.

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