When it comes to paying bills, too often the nation’s 37 million underbanked Americans do it using hard and costly ways: in cash, and in person, by mail, or by phoning call centers. This creates an opportunity for financial institutions, billers, mobile carriers, and bill-pay innovators to cut processing costs if they can enhance online and mobile options with electronic payments for this underserved segment. Financial institutions should take note, however, that innovative and compelling offerings from non-traditional banks, non-FIs, and  prepaid-card issuers demonstrate that the term “underbanked” incorrectly implies that banks must provide the answer. This report includes a four-part profile of underbanked Americans, an analysis of how they typically pay seven of the most common bills, and recommendations for motivating them to increase the use of online and mobile bill payments.

Primary Questions

  • How many Americans are underbanked, and what is their general profile?
  • What payment methods – cash, checks, prepaid, etc. –  do the underbanked use most to pay bills?
  • What payment channels – in person, over the phone, with digital payments, etc. –  do the underbanked use most to pay bills?
  • Are the underbanked willing or able to pay bills online or on mobile devices?
  • What technological investments and marketing messages will be most likely to boost the use of online and mobile payments among the underbanked?


Companies Mentioned

American Express

Green Dot




U.S. Bank



  • A random‐sample panel of 5,856 respondents collected online in March 2012. 
  • A random‐sample panel of 3,492 consumers with mobile phones or smartphones collected online in June 2012. 
  • A random‐sample panel of 3,000 respondents collected online in August 2012. 
  • A random sample panel of 5,249 respondents collected online in October 2012.