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How Mobile Devices Can Hasten the Post-COVID Recovery for Unbanked and Underbanked Americans

Aug 16, 2021

Customers viewing smartphones in their hands

The opening line of this recent PYMNTS.com article -  “Have phone, will bank” – is interesting because it reinforces how quickly the current generation of consumers is ushering in the new mobile economy. When they want to conduct virtually any transaction, from managing their bank accounts, to sending and receiving payments, to shopping for goods and services, they first reach for their smartphones. This is consistent with our experience at Acima as almost 80% of customers who interact with us online do so via their mobile devices.

But as the article’s authors also point out: “Clearly there’s a disconnect here, since most of us have devices, yet a significant number of us are underserved by the traditional financial system, and thus would be defined as underbanked.”


The same dilemma applies to the retail industry. 


Retailers should not underestimate the potential growth opportunity this massive segment presents to them. According to the findings from the FDIC's 2019 survey of Household Use of Banking and Financial Services, which the commission published in October 2020, 66 million American adults--more than one in five--are unbanked or underbanked. The FDIC indicates almost 50% of unbanked individuals said they don't have an account because they can't meet banks’ required minimum balances.


Yet, these 66 million Americans still require household, electronic, and everyday goods for their daily lives to operate smoothly and their children to attend school. And there's one resource many cash and credit constrained consumers unbanked and underbanked people do have: mobile phones. 


According to a 2019 Pew Research Center report, 81% of Americans now own a smartphone—and that percentage is only slightly lower (71%) among people who make less than $30,000 a year. One in four low-income Americans have neither desktop computers nor home internet service, so they exclusively rely on their smartphone to check the news, read important communications, and shop online.


Retailers must utilize this form factor to connect to this vast segment of American consumers. That’s why we’re working hard to ensure the cash and credit constrained consumer can participate in this mobile-first economy. 


In fact, we just announced two new innovative solutions in the LTO payment space to transform the way our consumers transact with ease and flexibility during the shopping experience: the Acima Mobile Application, which makes Acima’s entire LTO network available to customers via their handheld device; and the Acima MarketPlace™, our proprietary online shopping platform that connects customers to a wide (and ever-growing) variety of retailers.


The Acima Marketplace platform unlocks shopping power and choice for underserved consumers, and the mobile application is a critical component to including more cash and credit constrained consumers in the online and mobile economy.


Consumers can download the application from the Apple App Store or Google Play Store and, if eligible, receive approval in as little as a minute to get access to up to $4,000 in shopping power. Acima then purchases the goods from the retailer and leases to the consumer under a flexible lease to own (LTO) transaction allowing the consumers to get the product they need without the burden of debt. 


As the country begins to look forward to economic recovery, retailers will need to approach their business in innovative ways to recapture their customer base and pivot to serve a post-COVID-19 economy. As a society, we need to invest in creative solutions that remove the financial barriers keeping 66 million Americans from participating in this recovery.


That mission fuels our drive to build new LTO solutions that unlock shopping power and choice for the tens of millions of underserved consumers without access to traditional financing, while creating opportunities for retailers to reach this massive consumer base and hasten their post-pandemic recoveries.

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