By Tanaya Macheel
Aspiration, the U.S. neobank that markets itself to socially-conscious consumers based on its refusal to fund fossil fuel projects, has launched a “cash management” account in its latest step in taking over the major banks and saving the planet.
The Open & Save account offers unlimited cash back rewards on every dollar, extra rewards for shopping at businesses with strong employee and environmental practices, zero fees and a 2 percent interest yield on deposits. It also promises that unlike bigger and older banks, customer deposits will just sit in the vault instead of being lent out to finance fossil fuel infrastructure.
Aspiration makes money by charging users a monthly fee they think is fair, even if it’s zero. “The vast majority" of its nearly one million users choose to pay a fee, typically between zero and 2 percent, CEO Andrei Cherny said in an interview with Cheddar Tuesday. He also said the company adds 100,000 registered users each month.
"We’re in a world right now where the banking industry is facing a massive crisis of distrust,” he said. "The vast majority of customers choose to pay ... They see us as financial firm that has our back, is working for them, shares their values. They’re not getting that with the rest of the financial industry."
Aspiration has been digging at banks for years, riding the post-crisis break-up-the-banks rhetoric and comparing itself in marketing to industry heavyweights rather than other fintech apps and neobank peers. Last year, for example, it launched a Valentine’s Day campaign urging customers to break up with Bank of America and join Aspiration — even offering $12 to make up for the $12 fee B of A introduced to its only free checking accounts at the time.
But 10 years after the crisis, mobile and online banking experiences have improved at many major banksー most have helped further cultivate the U.S. credit card culture, creating cards with highly competitive rewards schemes that customers love using. And in the age of Big Tech companies as “digital gangsters” there’s just less anti-bank sentiment in the U.S. than there used to be.
Still, Cherny said the company message isn’t about depicting banks as villains.
"Banks have a fundamentally broken business model. The truth is the banks out there make money when their customers do worse,” particularly on various different fees, he said. "The fundamental incentives are misaligned between the customers and their financial partner."
That may be, but Aspiration is bound to face economic challenges if it continues to grow but acquires users that are less generous. And to truly be a “bank" and take on the largest U.S. lenders, Aspiration eventually has to be able to lend money to consumers. Perhaps collecting deposits from them in the new Spend & Save accounts will further that goal.
“That’s definitely something in the cards as we move forward. Expect us to look at credit and lending and all the different types of services people are looking for.”
For full interview click here.