Anyone who knows me well has probably heard me complain about the banking system at some point. Although there are many fundamental issues with the system that one party can’t address, such as the ridiculousness of banking if you happen to be under 18, ACH’s & wires, and more, there have been some innovative fin-tech players that have grown in dominance over the past few years. You may have heard some names before, like Robinhood and Acorns, but others are gaining prominence and are personal favorites. The only traditional players that I really tolerate are AMEX, Charles Schwab & Chase. Today, I wanted to share some of the favorite tools we use that are disrupting the traditional banking system. Maybe there are a few you’d be interested to start using. Let’s get right into it;
Ally is where I do most of my personal banking (in a joint/custodial account, of course). They are entirely internet-based, which means they operate with far less overhead than traditional banks. This allows them to pass some of the savings onto you with higher interest rates for your money. The rates have dropped drastically with COVID but still, sit at .5%. Historically, they have been above 2% at some points. Although they are based 100% online, their customer service rocks, and they still have all the backing a traditional bank has. You can still get a debit card, you can still use an ATM, and it still has FDIC insurance (up to $250,000, of course). They have hardly any fees and are transparent about the ones they do have. Right now, my two major complaints are that they don’t offer business banking and don’t offer a credit card.
There are many internet-based banks out there, but Ally is the most prominent and is where I’d put my money. They aren’t just a higher-interest savings account. They are a fully functional bank that happens to have some great interest rates — heck, their interest rates on checking accounts are better than most bank’s interest rates on savings accounts.
If you haven’t heard of Stripe, you probably live under a rock, but I still thought I’d mention it because lots of people don’t understand the full power of what Stripe does. Over the past few years, they have given businesses of all sizes the tools that previously only large organizations had, which happens to be what we’re all about at Z Mark.
When most people think of Stripe, they think of that payment processor that lets them process payments for 2.9% with a few clicks. This itself is a remarkable feat – I would not wish the process of setting up a custom payment stack on anybody. I won’t bore you with the details, but you have to find a processor, negotiate the fees, get underwritten and approved, and sign a contract. You may think you are done, but at this point, you are just getting started. You still have to find a gateway, integrate that processor with your gateway, and then integrate that gateway with whatever you are using to take payments. In theory, you are done at this point, but in application, usually, the UI’s are so hard to navigate that you need to use a tool like Chargedesk to even work with any payments. All of these costs add up, and if something breaks, your whole infrastructure is damaged. Stripe streamlines all of this, but what’s crazier is that you are granted instant approval with a flat fee; it’s not a drawn-out process. Not to mention their customer service rocks.
They don’t stop at a payment processor, though. Other products they offer include Stripe Issuing, which allows you to create virtual or physical credit cards for your customers, your team, and yourself, Stripe Connect, which allows you to forget about accounts payable and easily distribute payments to vendors, and now Stripe Treasury which offers banking as a service. Although these are just a few of the many products Stripe offers, you could argue that some such as Billing and Radar should not be marketed as separate services and add extra fees. Either way, Stripe is undoubtedly an innovative company that needs to go public soon (maybe via IPOF)
I’ve been using this more and more over the past few months. It allows you to create virtual cards for use at one merchant. You can set spending limits and quickly turn them off. Plus, earn 1% cashback. It’s a simple concept but can make a world of difference in managing your finances.
It pains me to include this in the list, considering I’m not the biggest fan of Jack Dorsey, but I enjoy Cash App. It’s user-friendly, has great design, and has lots of great features. Especially for those who are new to managing & investing money, it makes things simple with stocks, securities. Not to mention the debit card is surprisingly good, and the core feature of sending money to folks is solid.
Plaid is a disruptor, and I guess that you have used it without even knowing. Ever connect your bank or even a credit card to a financial service or just to pay for something quickly via ACH? That’s Plaid. They take what was historically a multi-day long process filled with complexities and make it almost instant. Be it for a simple ACH payment or analyze each transaction from a bank account for a book-keeping service, Plaid streamlines the process.
Wise (previously know as Transferwise) is by far the easiest way to send money abroad. You can send money using Western Union, PayPal, or even try using your bank. Still, the issue is the conversion rate — even if you don’t know it, the conversion rate is being marked up drastically, meaning you are paying more than you should. Wise makes sending money abroad easy because it never actually crosses any borders. You send the funds to their U.S. account, and they pay out your vendor through the account in the relevant country.
There are, of course, other players in the space, which I wasn’t able to mention today. Some honorable mentions are Zelle, a peer-to-peer service allowing you to send funds directly to someone’s bank account, Cushion, which works to get any bank fees you encounter waived and refunded. And lastly, Sofi — I’ve never actually used it myself, but have heard great things about it. Essentially it centralizes all of your finance tools — loans, bank accounts, credit cards, investment, mint.com type tools, and more.
I’d be curious to hear if there’s any fin-tech companies you think I should know about, and I hope I was able to help you discover a new tool or two!