Name Your Price for Banking

Jan 17th, 2013 | Posted by

On January 15th, Green Dot, a US-based company best known for its prepaid cards, announced the launch of GoBank, a full FDIC-insured bank account designed for and available via mobile phone. Promoting itself as “a bank with tomorrow’s technology”, it does indeed come with a host of attractive features, such as a mobile-only account opening, checking the balance in 2 seconds without logging in, multiple ways to deposit money (from direct deposit to check RDC to deposits via any Green Dot retailer, such as Wal-Mart), and a network of over 40,000 ATMs to withdraw cash for free. It also includes alerts and other tools meant to help customers manage their money, such as, for example, “Ask the Fortune Teller”, which if a person tries to spend too much, might say: “Remember that time you won the lottery? I don’t either!”

However, perhaps the most innovative feature of GoBank is its approach to pricing. GoBank promises to do away with many traditional banking fees, such as for overdraft. It is also planning to let the customers name their own monthly fee, up to $9 a month. That’s right - there is no fixed monthly fee, instead, the bank asks the customers how much they are willing to pay.

Now, as far as I know, that is new in Banking; I’ve only seen it done in other industries. In the early days of the Internet revolution, I recall websites that would let the users name their price for a seat on the plane or a hotel room. More recently (in 2007), Radiohead, a popular UK band, made news when they started distributing their “In Rainbows” album themselves online and allowed listeners to name their price before downloading. Of course, many downloaded it for free, and subsequently the album was released as a CD available via regular channels.

I am sure there will be many customers of GoBank that will also decide to pay nothing. However, perhaps this is not as crazy as it might seem at first glance. As a “purely mobile” offering with no branches, GoBank’s costs must be lower than that of most other banks. The bank probably expects that the fees they will be charging (e.g. out-of-network ATM use or personalised debit cards at $9 each and others) will more than cover those lower costs. And they might be in for a positive surprise – I also fully expect that some people will offer to pay monthly fees if they genuinely like the service. After all, I was one of those that did pay a voluntary fee to download “In Rainbows” and ended up buying the actual CD…

It is too early to tell what kind of impact this migth have on the banking industry, but good luck to the team at GoBank! We will be watching their progress with interest.

  1. Jacob Jegher
    Jan 17th, 2013 at 15:16
    Reply | Quote | #1

    Great post Zil. One other interesting tidbit is that GoBank has taken a different approach than Simple or Movenbank. GoBank is actually a FDIC insured bank, whereas Simple and Movenbank have partnered with a bank (for deposit taking) and are acting as the front end. Very different business models and approaches. It will be interesting to see how consumers react.

    I’m kind of wary on the “name your own price” bit. Even though there is no branch network, there is still plenty of cost that GoBank is going to incur and they will need a solid business model in order to grow their business.

  2. Amy Wood
    Jan 17th, 2013 at 17:12
    Reply | Quote | #2

    Hi Zil,
    Nice article.The idea of allowing people to pay whatever they want for banking is an odd one. It might make sense in the context of thinking about the human appreciation you have for an artist like Radiohead, but this is GoBank we’re talking about. Users can pay anywhere from $0 to $9 per month.

  3. Monica Gilmore
    Jan 28th, 2013 at 19:41
    Reply | Quote | #3

    Interesting market introduction akin to Golden Circle theory (of Simon Sinek). Early adopters will pay to launch your product, if they feel strongly about supporting a “fix” to the traditional banking environment. If it’s a good product it’s about closing the gap for the mass market when the tipping point presents itself. I admire their calculated risk-taking and look forward to see if this innovation comes to be.