Despite Financial Literacy Push, the Underbanked Are Still Underbanked

The rise of fintech startups and financial services companies espousing financial literacy programs, good financial health practices, and budgeting tools for consumers hasn’t changed one crucial fact: underbanked U.S. households are still underbanked.

“I have seen a lot of [new] people in credit, but relatively little at the lower end,” Marla Blow, CEO and founder of FS Card (creators of the Build card) told Bank Innovation. “There’s not been a lot of new [players] in this space; it’s a bit of a special kind of place.”

The FS Build card is a credit product offered to subprime individuals, offering lines of credit from $500 that can grow (with proper management) to $1,000, according to Blow.

Prime individuals have their choice of credit products (and are getting more of them thanks to startups, according to Blow), but for subprime borrowers, options remain on the slimmer side. The aim of FS Card is to bring subprime or underbanked consumers access to consumer-friendly products that are typically barred for them due to poor (or lack of) credit.

Despite the growing number of startups and services offering “financial literacy” services or tools to consumers, the number of new companies that can make or are willing to make loans to the underbanked remains small. The number of U.S. households that are underbanked is about 20%, according to the latest FDIC data, and that number is not going down.

The problem for fintechs that seek to rectify this issue is the risk, according to Blow, as smaller companies often don’t have the necessary resources, and larger firms lack the necessary time.

“If you are a bigger company, being able to make more money on small loans is tough,” said Blow. “If you can offer someone $15,000 as opposed to $500, well, that’s almost a no-brainer.”

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