The number of checking accounts has fallen by almost 100 million in the last six years, thanks to competition from fintech products and companies such as Walmart, Starbucks and Apple, according to new research from financial institutions analytics company Moebs Services.
Using bank, thrift and credit union data from the NCUA, FDIC and the Federal Reserve, Moebs Services reported that the total number of checking accounts dropped from about 690 million to just over 600 million from 2011 to 2017 — a 12% decline over six years, or about 2.2% per year.
“Depositories need to stop the outflow of the checking account transaction user who keeps no balance and focus on reducing operational cost and installing lower fees to make checking profitable,” Moebs Services Economist & CEO Michael Moebs said. “Otherwise, the likes of Walmart and Amazon will soon dominate the checking account business.”
“Most depositories don’t realize Walmart, and soon Amazon, are taking away their key service,” he added.
Total checking account balances have more than doubled from $945 billion in 2010 to $2.11 trillion in 2017, according to the data.
“The American consumer is very unsure of their financial future,” the report said. “In uncertainty a person will retain and hold money until the future becomes clearer — this is why checking balances are rising. Yet, consumers and businesses while waiting for a more stable future will seek a less costly checking account.”
Many checking accounts are unprofitable for credit unions and other financial institutions if the member does not maintain a high balance and conducts plain-vanilla transactions, the study noted. Many fintech firms, on the other hand, are often eager to attract customers with small balances — they can save the companies money by reducing their interchange or swipe fees.
“Walmart pays millions in interchange each year,” Moebs Services explained. “So, if a Walmart customer swipes a debit card or prepaid card from Walmart, Walmart does not have to pay swipe fees.”
In turn, many credit unions and other financial institutions are swapping out business from single-service households with low-balance, high-transaction, free checking accounts for relationship checking accounts in which members use two or more services. As a result, credit unions and other financial institutions may not miss some of those lost accounts, Moebs noted.
“The relationship dynamic is to have checking become profitable when associated with at least one other money-making service rendering the relationship lucrative,” Moebs said. “Otherwise depositories are glad to let go of unprofitable, high transaction, low balance, often free, checking to fintech firms.”