A lot of people like to do some of their banking on their mobile devices, but one company says the smartphone isn't just for checking balances.
Green Dot thinks the device can be the entire bank.
With the launch today of GoBank, Green Dot -- a major player in reloadable prepaid cards -- is betting that an all-new FDIC-insured bank, built from scratch and designed for mobile devices, could be just what people disgruntled with their Chase or Bank of America experience are looking for.
GoBank was built to be fast, secure, and uncomplicated, said Sam Altman, executive vice president of mobile for Green Dot. The new bank is launching in a small beta but is expected to be available to everyone later this year. It is meant to offer many of the features of traditional banks, but without a lot of fees or the long waits.
According to Altman -- who founded Loopt, a mobile location-based application developer that Green Dot bought last year for $43.4 million -- GoBank won't have any branches, which slashes one of the largest costs of a traditional bank. At the same time, it offers a network of more than 40,000 ATMs where customers can withdraw cash for free -- a number twice as large as that of BofA or Chase -- and deposits can be made at any Green Dot retailer, such as Wal-Mart.
As a bank built for mobile, GoBank is about avoiding the traditional banking experience altogether, Altman said. Customers can open an account on their iPhone or Android phone in about four minutes, he said, and can deposit checks through the GoBank mobile app -- a feature that standard banks are increasingly offering as well. GoBank is also offering direct deposit for paychecks, tax returns, and federal benefits.
Of course, no one will trust their savings to a bank they don't feel is secure. GoBank was built with that in mind, meeting all industry standards, according to Green Dot. Among the security measures protecting customers are strong password requirements and protection; device tracking that includes a new device security question on first log-in and when logging in from suspicious IPs; an automatic log-out after inactivity; standard banking verification procedures and strong verification for new customers; and alerts about unusual account activity.
Altman said GoBank was also designed to save customers time and that Green Dot looked for lots of ways to accomplish that. One, he explained, is that customers can check their account balance, without logging in, in just two seconds -- far faster than the 80 seconds or so it takes people on many banks' mobile apps, he said.
At the same time, GoBank is doing away with many of the fees that infuriate many people. As a result, the bank's customers won't pay for having low balances or overdrafts. They can even avoid monthly fees. That's because, Altman said, GoBank is adopting the Radiohead model and letting customers name their own monthly fee, with a maximum of $9 a month. Altman said GoBank knows many will choose to pay no monthly fee, while others will be willing to pay for the quality experience.
Altman said that while GoBank will be giving up the massive revenue that comes from traditional banking fees -- he said that traditional checking accounts generate $200 to $300 a year in fees on average -- it doesn't need the money because its overhead is so much lower. That said, GoBank will collect revenue from a $2.50 charge for using out-of-network ATMs, from 3 percent international surcharges, and from higher-than-average interchange fees charged when customers use a GoBank debit card.
GoBank was designed to make life easier -- and more realistic -- for customers, Altman said. It does so by giving customers simple tools for sending money or paying bills. He said any customer can send money to anyone via e-mail, text message, or Facebook, and can pay bills automatically as well. GoBank will send a check to any recipient that can't accept payment digitally.
But the bank's tools also include some meant to help customer manage their money. For example, Altman said, one optional tool will give users a reality check if they try to buy something beyond their means. "Remember that time you won the lottery? I don't either," the so-called "Fortune Teller" feature might respond if a person tries to spend too much. At the same time, customers can also set up alerts every time their debit card is used to buy something in excess of, say, $50.
As a company already set up as a bank holding company, Altman said, Green Dot is uniquely positioned to start a new bank. That's because it is both steeped in the kind of Silicon Valley application development needed to build a sophisticated mobile experience, and is already in the banking business. Altman said any other startup would have had to partner with an existing bank. Green Dot is already regulated by the Federal Reserve and has more than $300 million in cash reserves, so it should be ready to go from day one, Altman said.
GoBank will face competition from the big banks' increasing focus on mobile, as well as from other nontraditional efforts, such as Simple, and the joint American Express and Wal-Mart Bluebird service. But while those two services both offer many of the features that GoBank is promoting, Altman argued, neither has the level of simplicity or mobile-first focus of GoBank.
Despite its background in banking and desire to offer customers a functional banking experience, GoBank isn't yet ready to get into the loan business. But Altman said that loans and credit are something that might be offered "down the road."