The $169 Billion Hidden Market: People Without Banks
August 5, 2011
According to FDIC data, an estimated $169 billion in income never flows through a bank or credit union. For years, banks have experimented with winning over "bottom of the pyramid" consumers in the U.S., and many have concluded that the effort was too risky and not lucrative enough. However, researchers from the University of Virginia Darden School of Business spent a year studying the issue and conclude that some different approaches could prove more successful in attracting deposits from the millions of households that have no relationship with a bank or credit union. The rapidly growing Latino population is particularly underserved, the researchers say. Several factors make the Latino population particularly attractive. Many Latino households feature more than one adult generating income, and the group's workforce participation is high. While some unbanked Latinos are undocumented aliens who would have trouble opening an account without a Social Security number, many others are just put off by deposit requirements and language barriers, and turn instead to check-cashing stores and payday lenders that cost more to use. Banks and credit unions could hire more employees who speak Spanish, educate staff members on cultural issues, and help customers with paperwork. Banks could also offer incentives to employers to bring staff members to the bank, or hold "sign-up" days in workplaces during which the benefits of banking — especially the absence of check-cashing fees — are promoted. Finally, the researchers argue that bank managers should get out the message that bringing large numbers of unbanked households into the system lowers the risk of crime. Because unbanked consumers carry cash or keep it at home, they are often the victims of violent robberies.
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