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With checking account, Albert aims for primary customer relationships

Personal finance app adds checking account amid increased competition with neobanks.

Albert, a 5-year-old personal finance app, is adding checking accounts to a family of products that include savings, bill negotiation, investing, earned-wage access and insurance. The goal is to own the customer relationship by being the primary point of contact for all things financial.

“The long term vision is to build the primary financial relationship for our customer and be their main point of contact,” said Yinon Ravid, Albert’s founder and CEO. “[With the bank account] everything moves faster for the customer. Money moves seamlessly between different accounts [and] you get better visibility into the transactions.” 

Ravid said customers can still continue to use an external bank account if they wish, but the Albert checking account, which is called Albert Cash, offers no maintenance fees, up to 20% cash back, getting paid up to two days early, sending and depositing checks, and a network of 55,000 free ATMs.

The Culver City, California-based company, which has so far raised $173 million, said it has more than 6 million customers. Compared to other personal-finance apps, Albert is a little late to the party in introducing a checking account. For example, Qapital launched a checking account in 2017; MoneyLion launched a checking account in 2018; and Digit launched a checking account offering earlier this year. 

Despite the crowded field, Albert said it differentiates from the pack by offering human advice through its team of “Geniuses” that answer questions on any financial issue through digital messaging, said Ravid. In addition, the company said it built proprietary software to support the work of Albert’s in-house financial advisers that helps them more easily understand and reply to customer questions.

“To my knowledge, we’re the only service out there that is offering people human guidance at scale,” said Ravid. “[The software] makes [advisers] efficient and makes them give customers better advice,” said Ravid.

In addition to a channel for communication with customers, the text-messaging advisory tool also acts as a means to collect feedback on the app experience that the company can use for product development. 

“We process huge volumes of feedback every day and we have internal systems to process those text messages, ” said Ravid. “We are able to get an enormous amount of feedback in a very short amount of time.”

Ravid didn’t say how many in-house advisers work for the company, but noted that the team includes certified financial planners, Series 65-qualified advisers and debt experts. The company said its in-house advisers answer 10,000 to 20,000 texts per day, and that customer savings amounts picked up considerably during the pandemic. 

From March 2020 through May 2021, Albert customers doubled the total deposits into its Albert Savings, from $350 million to more than $700 million, the company said. Albert Savings is the company’s automatic savings feature that automatically sets aside money from linked customer bank accounts. 

Albert is offering the checking account in partnership with Sutton Bank. Ravid declined to comment on whether Albert plans to apply for a bank charter of its own in the future, a path other fintechs like Varo, Square and SoFi have pursued. “Those sorts of strategic decisions we don’t really discuss,” he told FinLedger.

Albert said it generates most of its revenue from monthly subscriptions. But the pay-what-you-can monthly fee model – ranging from $4 to $14 per month – is relatively uncommon among financial platforms that monetize their product offerings through subscription fees. Albert suggests its model encourages the company to be accountable to its customers.

“We leave it up to the customer – if the customers believe that there’s more value in the service they pay more and if they believe there’s less, they pay less,” said Ravid. “It keeps us honest about building good products. The better the product, the more willing the customer will be to pay more.”

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