Wellness platform Branch is now a challenger bank

via Bank Innovation

Against the rising tide of digital-only banks, Minneapolis-based personal finance platform Branch has taken the plunge.

The four-year-old company offers a suite of personal finance tools, including payday advance services for hourly workers through integrations with employer payroll platforms, including Pizza Hut and Taco Bell. Its fee-free checking account is offered in partnership with Evolve Bank & Trust, and the company is considering rolling out other incentives to encourage the use of Branch checking accounts, including increased advance amounts.

CEO Atif Siddiqi told Bank Innovation that underbanked users of Branch’s services finally will be able to put all of their financial needs into one platform. “We saw this as an opportunity to provide [users] with a modern mobile banking experience and, by doing so, we could offer them incentives around other products, like hourly wage access, that we’re pushing out for free,” he said.Until now, Branch has offered customers the capability to a get instant access to a portion their wages early for a $3.99 fee. Now, customers who choose to bank with Branch can use this service without fees. Reminiscent of other digital-only challenger banks, Branch customers also can access their paychecks two days early and use a network of ATMs without having to pay fees.

The fee-free, digital-only banking offering is a playbook employed by such startups as Chime, Varo, Revolut, Monzo and others. Other companies that offer employer-based payday advance services and money management tools include Even and Finfit, while Earnin lets users advance a portion of their paychecks without employer integration. Branch generates revenue through subscription fees employers pay to offer its services to employees.

Asked how Branch intends to differentiate, Siddiqi said Branch’s integration with employers and in-app side-hustle marketplace are ways to set itself apart. “One of the big things that differentiates us from others is that relationship with the employer,” he added. “We see employers playing a role in helping employees start their financial journeys.”