Millennials hate banks so much, they’d rather go to the dentist than listen to what banks have to say. And digital payment alternatives are taking advantage.
For banks to keep up, they have to embrace the digital world and understand that millennials would rather handle everything on their phones than talk to a human.
Research published in “The Millennial Disruption Index” (MDI) found that leading banks represent four out of the ten brands least loved by American millennials. And millennials’ distrust of big banks is reflected in their actions. FirstData’s research indicates that nearly two-thirds of millennials do not have a credit card and 20% of millennials have never written a check. This generation has also proven reluctant to seek professional financial advice.
However distrust is only part of the problem—convenience is another. Millennials rely on digital technology, and specifically mobile devices, to do everything from ordering food to monitoring chronic diseases. They expect to tap a button and have a car show up at their doorstep and are accustomed to accessing any piece of information they need, the moment they need it.
These preferences and behaviors stand in stark contrast to traditional banks and financial services companies, which involve physical branches where clients must go in-person, stand in-line, and talk with an actual person. Old-school financial institutions can also involve high fees and are notorious for their opacity. For all these reasons and more, the millennial generation is seeking more transparent, digital alternatives to the traditional financial system. 94 percent of millennials identify as “active users” of online banking and rank convenience (i.e. digital experiences) as their top priority.
Let’s take a look how digital payment alternatives are shaking up the financial industry, and what this means for its institutions.
International Money Transfer. Sending money abroad has historically been an expensive and drawn-out process that takes days, even weeks, to go through. In the past, the market was dominated by “independent money transfer giants,” like Western Union and MoneyGram, which are known for charging exorbitant fees.
Then entrepreneurs realized that they could use technology to carve out a faster, easier, cheaper way for people to send money abroad. Take the startup Transferwise, which claims to be 8X cheaper than the incumbents and recently joined the “unicorn club” with a $1.1 billion valuation. Part of its strategy has been to cultivate a strong anti-bank stance (adopting the slogan “Bye Bye Banks”).
Other startups in the space include World First, a money transfer app for wearables, and WorldRemit, which is tackling the massive international remittance market. These apps are thriving by taking a standard financial process—sending money abroad—and transforming it for a new generation. They also don’t require customers to visit a physical storefront and transfers happen quicker, since they don’t have to navigate all the legacy infrastructure that keeps banks slow.
In addition, these companies emphasizes transparency. For example, Transferwise by offers the “real” exchange rate on its site and enables consumers to calculate all the costs and fees upfront. By providing a seamless, more transparent and more affordable alternative, these companies are rapidly unseating legacy players who have dominated the market for decades.
Mobile Payments. Experts have speculated for years on when mobile devices would replace wallets. Despite smartphone penetration and advancements in financial tech, no company came close to making this vision a reality. PayPal, Google, Visa, Mastercard and others all came out with digital wallets, but experienced lackluster adoption (at best). The fact remained that pulling out a credit card and swiping it was just as easy as pulling out a phone to pay, with the advantage of being entrenched behavior. Furthermore, the fact that the mobile wallet space was fragmented represented an additional hurdle.
Now that Apple Pay is up and running, it looks like digital wallets are ready for their move into prime time. Apple Pay is a ubiquitous mobile wallet that every major bank can use, rather than developing their own. Not only does developing a digital wallet require a hefty development effort, but it’s also not the core task of the bank to create and promote a mobile app.
While Apple Pay makes it easy for banks to jump in the mobile wallet game, it is also another example of how a savvy, user-centric technology company got there first. Other companies quickly followed in its wake—Android Pay and Samsung Pay are both available to users on the Android side
P-to-P Apps. Before, when friends and family needed to pay each other, they generally relied on cash and checks. However neither option was ideal, and when mobile devices became ubiquitous, this opened up the opportunity to create a new, more convenient ways: Peer-to-Peer (P-to-P) payments.
One of the most well-known players in the space is Venmo. Venmo makes it easy for people to request money to a friend in just a few steps using their phone—no cash, checks or going through banks (where time and fees are involved). Venmo also logs all transactions, so users can see who they paid for what and when. These features are key for millennials, who are information hungry and want things to happen in real-time.
Venmo’s approach has met with meteoric success. After being acquired by Braintree, then by Paypal, its payment volume has soared and it processed $3.2 billion in payments in the first quarter of 2016 alone. And it’s not the only big player in the market. PayPal (although it now owns Venmo) has PayPal.me, Google Wallet enables P2P transfers, Square came out with Square Cash, you can send money to friends via Facebook Messenger, and rumor has it Apple is working on a P-to-P product.
The opportunity. Millennials are now the largest population in the U.S., and will represent 46% of all U.S income and $4 trillion in liquid assets by 2025. Banks that fail to adapt and develop digital services that resonate with millennials will quickly fall behind. This generation is always in the digital world. They won’t open a paper letter from their bank with their monthly statement, but they will check their balance online multiple times a week and opt-in to receive important notifications via SMS.
Banks are beginning to get it—Bank of America plans to triple spending on its mobile app in 2016, JPMorgan & Chase announced it is rolling out wireless ATMs, and Wells Fargo is investing heavily in P-to-P payments. Banks may be slow to evolve, but when their soon-to-be-biggest customer base demands something different, they have to pay attention.
Vincent Alimi is vice president of product and innovation at Mobeewave.