With increasingly few exceptions, the ranks of the unbanked seem to be on the decline, according to new data released by the FDIC.
The percentage of Americans going without banking services fell to 7 percent in 2015, from 7.7 percent in 2013. According to FDIC data, unbanked American consumers peaked toward the end of the Great Recession in 2011 at 8.2 percent. The figures for 2015 represent the best results the survey has seen since the FDIC started keeping track of the data with a biennial survey in 2009 (the share of unbanked Americans was 7.6 percent at that time).
The survey additionally took into consideration “underbanked” households — wherein consumers have access to a bank account but still make use of check cashing, money transfer services, payday loans or pawnshops. That number has remained much more stubbornly in place — 19.9 percent of Americans were underbanked in 2015, and 20 percent were underbanked in 2013.
“Through a banking relationship, consumers can take an important step toward full participation in our economy,” FDIC Chairman Martin Gruenberg said in prepared remarks to be delivered on Thursday (Sept. 8).
Gruenberg further noted that the improvements since 2013 were better than “what one would expect, even in light of improving economic conditions.” He did not elaborate on non-economic conditions that might have contributed to the uptick.
Two trends thought to be pushing the uptick are changing bank products and changing regulations on nonbank financial services providers. No-frill accounts with low (or no) balance requirements, paired with the fact that legislators and regulators are taking an increasingly jaundiced view of businesses that charge high fees to low-income consumers, seem to be working in tandem to push people back to banks.
Gruenberg further noted that changes in banking access have been seen mostly across all segments of society — with the exception of Asian Americans, where the unbanked rate actually increased sharply from 2.2 percent to 4 percent.
The FDIC will make the full results of its consumer banking report available on Oct. 20.