How the Dave app wants to reach customers who live paycheck to paycheck

Dave app interface

In the battle for customers’ checking account dollars, Dave, a personal finance app turned banking platform, is focusing on customers who are trying to make ends meet, many of whom are at the earliest stages of their financial lives.

“We are aiming for the 60% of Americans that do not have $400 set aside for an emergency,” said co-founder Jason Wilk. “Given the smartphone nature of the product, we do attract a lot of younger users in the early 20s, in college or just out of college, who really cannot afford to be paying overdraft fees at their bank and want a way to learn how to budget.” In two years since its launch, the app has acquired 3.5 million users, whose average age is 22.

In an noisy field of competitors that include Chime, Varo, MoneyLion and other digital-only platforms, Dave is differentiating by focusing on building financial security for its customers. At launch, it began as an app that offered customers a payday advance of up to $75 (it charges users a $1 fee per month to access the service). The app also warns customers when their account balances are about to go negative, a tool to avoid overdraft fees.

In June, fresh off a $110 million debt financing round, Dave launched a bank account product in partnership with Evolve Bank and Trust to allow for a more seamless connection to customers’ bank accounts. Dave bank account customers can get up to a $100 payday advance per pay period. Another unique feature among its personal finance toolkit is Side Hustle, a job marketplace within the app that has integrations with a dozen gig-economy companies such as Uber and Instacart.

“It’s a way to improve every bank account — that’s really how we initially envisioned it,” Wilk said. “It will improve your experience with budgeting over jobs and income.” Dave also offers opportunities to build credit by reporting rent payments to credit bureaus.

With its young customer base, Dave’s approach to reach customers early in their financial lives speaks to the big opportunity among challenger banks to reach Generation Z customers and others underserved by traditional big banks, said Jillian Williams, investment principal at Anthemis Group, in a recent interview with Bank Innovation.

As it grows its user base, Dave will be in a position to offer its customers additional products. Wilk acknowledged that he is thinking about further offerings from Dave, but he wouldn’t specify which ones are being considered.

To reach its target demographics, Dave has embarked on an aggressive social media-driven marketing effort that focuses on its comic mascot Dave the bear and associated content marketing products. “Dave the bear has a loyal following on social media — he is kind of taking on a life of his own,” Wilk noted.

Ryan Garner, senior product lead at fintech consultancy 11:FS, said Dave’s growth is the result if its focus on addressing pain points of its target customers, and not on just selling more products. “It is a brand working on the customers side to fight against the inadequacies and unfairness of traditional banking,” he said. “This is not about selling financial products, even though they do, but about helping customers.”

For Wilk, the fight for freedom from overdraft fees is personal, a vision that guides him as he envisions the future evolution of the platform. “This was enough of a personal issue, especially around the budgeting piece or not understanding my expenses — a frustrating issues all through my 20s,” he said. “I felt like we could build something simple that really could move the needle for people.”

Dave, which is based in Los Angeles, so far has raised $136.3 million over five funding rounds. Its backers include SV Angel, Bill Maris, Mark Cuban, Jonathan Kraft and the Chernin Group.