An article on the front page of Thursday’s New York Times describes how banks have begun to court lower income, underbanked and unbanked consumers in an attempt to boost fee income.
Banks are entering this arena because it has been largely untapped and because many of the products and services they offer the underserved face little or no federal regulation, the article said.
The banks defend the products by pointing out that if they were not offering them, they would not be available. But lower income consumers and consumer advocates complain the products create, in effect, a two-tier banking system where mainstream consumers are offered on set of products and services while consumer identified as lower income are offered a lesser, and often more expensive, set of products, the article said.
The article also offers the example of the Redstone Federal Credit Union in Alabama that offers lower income consumers a payday alternative loan in a setting that resembles a payday loan outlet, pointing out that the $3.4 billion Huntsville credit union also offers them the same products and services it offers other members.
“It looks like a check casher, but once you get inside you get the best of both worlds,” the article quoted Peter Alvarez, Redstone’s emerging markets manager. “The stores will offer traditional checking and savings accounts alongside prepaid cards, money transfer and bill paying. We wanted to attract people who wouldn’t naturally come to a bank.”