The “mobile-first” nuance

TMobile MONEY SpinAh, spin.  

When advertising agencies called on me in my prior job, I admired their ability to spin opposite traits as advantageous. For instance, larger agencies claimed they could better service our account because they had the needed internal resources. Smaller ones claimed they could better service our account because they were leaner, nimbler, and hungrier. Ergo, larger agencies could service better because they were larger, and smaller agencies could service better because they were smaller. Made perfect sense.

We’re seeing similar “logic” as more non-banks venture into the financial services arena. Traditional banks ride the perception that they’re better at banking because, well, because they’re real bankers, not, say, a phone company, search engine, or online retailer.  

But now, here comes T-Mobile with T-Mobile MONEY. One of their claims is that banking has gone mobile, so you’re better off banking with a mobile technology company and not a bunch of suits who rely on their elementary school-age grandkids to show them how to use their smartphones. 

I may have paraphrased T-Mobile’s position just a tad unfairly. Here’s how T-Mobile CEO John Legere put it, as quoted by Finextra: “Traditional banks aren’t mobile-first.” Definitely more professional, even though my way was funnier.  

Funny or not, Legere’s line is deviously clever in what it implies. It relies on the unstated major premise that a company’s roots determine its competence in other areas, which sounds reasonable enough provided you don’t think too hard about it. Shell gasoline, for instance, performs as well as any other brand even though the company started out as an antiques and collectibles shop specializing in, believe it or not, shells.  

And, for that matter, T-Mobile MONEY isn’t exactly bank-free. It exists in partnership with BankMobile, which is a division of Customers Bank, which happens to be—guess what—a traditional bank. The Verge describes it as “… a T-Mobile-operated face for … BankMobile.” 

Now, not every T-Mobile MONEY marketing claim is pure spin. The new entity offers some honest advantages that may have other contenders scrambling to catch up. All balances, no matter how small, earn interest at the basic rate. You needn’t be a T-Mobile wireless customer to be a T-Mobile MONEY customer—you can download the app to your computer or portable device regardless of your carrier—but if you are a T-Mobile customer there’s a seriously generous interest rate bonus in it for you.  

The interest rate bump and the “T-Mobile” in “T-Mobile MONEY” make it clear that T-Mobile wireless customers are a target market. But T-Mobile MONEY has no minimum balance requirements, charges no monthly or transfer fees, and charges no fees for overdrafts up to $50 that are paid off within a month. That may hold appeal for the roughly 8.4 million “unbanked” in the U.S., according to The Motley Fool:  

The company pointed out that Americans paid $34 billion in overdraft charges in 2017. That’s something the wireless carrier’s checking account seeks to eliminate, and that might make it a very appealing product for those who lack a checking account. 

The T-Mobile MONEY homepage bears the headline, “Not another bank. A better one.” That’s much better than, “This time we really mean it.” T-Mobile shuttered its first foray into financial services, Mobile Money, in 2016. At the time, PTMTS.com reported

The company’s Mobile Money service, which was launched in 2014, allowed customers to buy and add credit to a T-Mobile Visa card that could be used to withdraw cash at over 42,000 ATMs without a fee, Re/code reported. The service’s mobile app enabled its customers to use the account for paying bills, direct payroll deposit and depositing personal checks using their smartphone’s camera. 

T-Mobile is already of sufficient stature to become a serious contender in the financial services arena. It will be more so if (when?) the following happens, as per U.S. News & World Report

T-Mobile, the third-largest U.S. wireless carrier by subscriber count, is awaiting approval of its $26 billion deal to buy smaller rival Sprint Corp, which it has said will give it scale to compete with market leaders Verizon Communications Inc and AT&T Inc. 

Definitely a mobile-first company.

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