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The Green Sheet Online Edition

August 22, 2011 • Issue 11:08:02

Banks counseled to meet the underserved

By Patti Murphy
ProScribes Inc.

Editor's Note: This article was published by InsideMicrofinance.com June 24, 2011; reprinted with permission. 2011 InsideMicrofinance.com. All rights reserved.

It's ironic really: America's financially underserved came to be that way because, let's face it: banks really didn't want to play with the poor. Now, three years of a sagging economy have taken a toll, and there's an emerging recognition of the difficulties of growing an economy when upward of a quarter of the population isn't playing with banks.

KPMG LLP is the latest to suggest banks are losing big by ignoring the poor. And the consultancy is urging banks to consider new business models (as well as products and services) to turn things around.

KPMG's data crunching suggests the underserved market includes 88 million adult Americans with nearly $1.3 trillion in annual income and that as many as 6 million additional Americans could join the ranks of the underserved within the next two years, given current economic conditions.

"In the current environment, we see heavy competition among banks chasing customers with high credit scores, with decreasing margins, leaving the underserved market for those willing to invest in it," said Carl Carande, head of KPMG's banking and finance practice.

KPMG considers the "underserved" population to be those individuals without bank accounts (the unbanked) and the "underbanked," which it identifies as those who lack access to incremental credit. This differs from other characterizations of the underserved market. The FDIC, for example, makes distinctions between the "unbanked" and the "underserved," with the underserved moniker used to identify individuals who have some type of relationship with a bank, but who also use nonbank financial services providers (payday lenders, check cashers and the like).

Segmentation, new products and services

KPMG said its study of the underserved market identified four segments among the financially underserved, each with distinct socioeconomic characteristics. Briefly, these are:

  1. Unbanked folks are 18 to 40 years old, often recent immigrants, and earn between $12,000 and $35,000.

  2. Rebuilders, typically between 30 and 55 years old, are folks trying to rebuild their credit scores after a spate of bad luck (for example, unemployment and foreclosure). Their incomes range from $50,000 to $150,000, they have at least one checking account, but they have little to no savings. They have limited access to credit cards and may use payday lenders.

  3. The work-to-pay crowd comprises folks 18 to 30 years old and typically hourly workers earning $18,000 to $40,000 who may have trouble maintaining consistent employment. They use payday lenders, stored value cards and cash, and they're very comfortable with debit cards.

  4. The emerging retail segment consists of consumers 18 to 26 years old, with incomes ranging from $25,000 to $60,000. Typically, they are recent high school or trade school grads who are tech savvy. They pay bills on time and online, they use mobile phones, they're willing to pay for convenience and they're receptive to learning money management.

"Customer segmentation is critical to serving the underserved market, and each target segment requires a disciplined and strategic approach," said Timothy Ramsey, a Managing Director at KPMG.

"The KPMG study indicates that the underserved market is growing quickly because millions of wage-earning adults are, unfortunately, moving from the 'average' credit score to the 'damage' credit score category due to negative events" such as job loss or foreclosure, said Atif Zaim, Financial Services Sector Leader at the consultancy. "There are a number of services that banks can offer this segment as they recover or move up the value chain."

But these may require new delivery channels and marketing techniques, Zaim suggested. Possible new product offerings include international wire/card transfers, walk-in bill payment, check cashing (for noncustomers), secured credit cards and prepaid debit cards. The big question remaining: are America's bankers paying attention? The Green Sheet, Inc.

Patti Murphy is Senior Editor of The Green Sheet and President of ProScribes Inc. She is also the founder of InsideMicrofinance.com. Email her at patti@greensheet.com.

Notice to readers: These are archived articles. Contact names or information may be out of date. We regret any inconvenience.

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