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Capturing The Next Generation Means Engaging Them Now

In the past year, mobile payment service Cash App has been the top downloaded financial app in the U.S. according to data.ai, ranking first on active users, total time used and usage penetration. It’s also the only financial app featured in the top 20 downloaded apps from both the Apple Store and Google Play. Its user base stands at 53 million “transacting actives,” and in the first quarter it processed $4.9 billion in peer-to-peer (P2P) gross payment volumes.

Yet, while impressive, these volumes pale when compared with the $84 billion in Zelle volumes of just one of the top national banks for the same period. Meanwhile, direct banks and leading national banks are attracting the majority of deposits, and leading issuers continue to meet the ever-growing demand for credit. So even though it’s a popular app, why should Cash App even matter? The answer, quite simply, is the composition of its customer base: Gen Z. Representing current ages 11 to 26, that’s where the next generation of bank customers will be coming from.

Cash App is immensely popular with Gen Z, where the next generation of bank customers will be coming from.

According to the Pew Research Center, 39% of U.S. adults aged 18-29 used Cash App in 2022. In Gen Z and social media vernacular, “cashapp” has become a verb and often comes up in hip hop lyrics. Its debit product, the Cash App Card, recorded 20 million active users in March, an increase of more than a third year over year. Just as significant has been its launch in January of Cash App Savings, which provides users with a separate savings balance, goals and automated purchase roundups (but with no accrued interest). And since it added a user base of 13- to 17-year-olds in 2021, other platforms are paying attention. Venmo, which Cash App has surpassed in downloads since 2018, launched its own teen accounts in May.

Cash App’s growth and its promise illustrate the wider trend of the shifting consumer preferences from more established institutions and platforms to providers that offer more distinctive interactions and experiences. As Curinos’ recent U.S. Shopper Survey indicates, neobanks, for example, continue to grow their market share of consumer acquisitions, to about 30% of the total in 2022. (See Figure 1.)

Figure 1: Checking Account Opened by Primary Bank Type

Source: Curinos Customer Knowledge | 2019-2022 Shopper Survey | Base: Respondents that said they opened their account in that year across all shopper studies | Q10: In which year did you open your primary checking account (the checking account you use the most today)?

What ties Cash App and neobanks such as Chime, Varo and SoFi together is their laser focus on key use cases that drive usage through simplified user experiences. When users open Cash App, they land on the payment screen to tap in the amount being requested or sent. There’s no navigation to a payments tab, no scrolling to find a link to make a Zelle payment, no searching for the P2P option on a long hamburger menu. As with other fintechs, the experience shares ample padding between elements on the page, strong legibility and larger touch targets to make the small mobile screen easier to use. There’s even an added layer of security, with PIN authentication to make the payment, which is essential because of today’s widespread concern over P2P fraud.

Cash App’s foray into savings also highlights how, through goal visualization and increasing automation, it’s recognizing and responding to the need users are exhibiting to reinforce their savings behavior. These digital capabilities aren’t new, so it’s surprising how few financial brands are supporting savings behavior through more intuitive means. Of the 120 U.S. checking institutions tracked in the Curinos Digital Banking Analyzer, only 10% offer automated savings roundups, the majority of which are fintechs and neobanks. The difference between traditional providers and neobanks, moreover, lies in the simplicity of the implementation: Cash App, Varo, Chime and Revolut all require just a toggle to turn on savings roundups.

As fintech platforms and neobanks continue to build their customer bases, the focus of many has shifted to areas where traditional providers have typically led. Early deposit features and advantageous rates to encourage enrollment into direct deposit are being used to drive users into the platform to transact, spend, send and borrow. And the ability to peer into customer transactional and behavioral data to deepen relationships is no longer the preserve of traditional providers.

With customers shifting their attention and transactions to alternate platforms, fintechs and neobanks are increasingly positioned to widen and even alter consumer consideration sets for financial products. They’re doing this through hyper-personalized direct communication within the digital platform or simply by capturing the customer early as they first engage with financial services.

“Cashapp me” is not just a meme or a hashtag. It’s a clear signal of how newer platforms have learned to engage and deliver experiences today for the next generation of depositors and borrowers.

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