In the hotly contested person-to-person payment business, financial institutions have felt left behind by technology impresarios like PayPal Holdings Inc. and Square Inc. that have entered the market over the past few years with slick P2P apps. But on Monday, the banks’ Zelle network released fresh numbers indicating healthy growth in 2017 and pointed ahead to heavy consumer marketing in 2018’s first quarter as players jockey for a piece of a $120 billion market.
“Our marketing budget is substantial,” says Lou Anne Alexander, group president of payments for Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Early Warning Services LLC, the bank-owned company that officially launched Zelle only last June as the successor to the clearXchange system. “We’re trying to get the word out that hey, [Zelle] is right there in your banking app.”
Besides reaching consumers, another big priority will be signing up—and activating—more financial institutions. Zelle finished 2017 with more than 60 banks signed up, of which 20 are now live on the network. In particular, Early Warning wants to get more mid-size and small institutions on the system. “The big news for 2018 will be around smaller [financial institutions] that will be added,” Alexander tells Digital Transactions News. She also expects Zelle to emphasize more applications besides P2P, particularly consumer disbursements from insurance companies and other corporate entities, as well as contributions to charities.
Backed by some of the nation’s biggest banks, including JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Bank of America Corp., Zelle is off to a fast start in its rivalry with non-bank P2P services such as PayPal’s highly popular Venmo app and Square Cash. The network processed $75 billion in payments last year, according to the numbers released Monday, on 247 million transactions. Those represent increases of 36% and 45%, respectively, over the performance posted in 2016 under the old clearXchange banner.
In the final three months, the system processed $22 billion in payments, a 14% increase from the third quarter, on more than 75 million transactions, up 18%.
A crucial statistic for Zelle is how many consumers can use the service directly from their bank or credit union app. Right now, that number stands at more than 95 million, Early Warning says. Customers of institutions that don’t belong to the network, or where the service has not yet been integrated, can download the Zelle app for iOS or Android.
But this experience has been rocky. For example, the Zelle app for iOS gets an overall rating of 3.8 stars out of five from users, compared to 4.6 for Square Cash and 4.9 for Venmo. Alexander says some of the frustration expressed in user reviews stems from caution in enrolling new users. “This is money moved in real time, so there’s a very heavy emphasis on safety and soundness,” she says. “We do not accept all enrollments.” As for other aspects of the user experience, Early Warning is “making improvements,” she adds.
One key advantage for Zelle is that it can move funds directly from a sender’s bank account to that of a recipient, eliminating the extra step for the recipient of moving money from a special wallet to a bank account. Whether or not that ultimately makes a difference with users of other P2P apps, more consumers will clearly hear more of Zelle in the coming months in the wake of a national TV campaign launched this month. “You’re going to see more than 3,000 [ad placements] before the end of March,” says Alexander.