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Pew Survey on Smart Phone Usage Should Inform Mobile Banking

Adam Rust's picture

Posted May 8, 2014

Data attained from the Pew Center's recently released "25th Anniversary of the Web" survey includes some telling details about how Americans are adopting the smart phone. Simple crosstabs suggest that the ability of smart phones to reach traditionally underbanked consumers is very real and very significant. 

According to their January 2014 Omnibus, smart phone penetration tends to be highest in populations that are

most likely to be under-served by mainstream banking. The following data points are drawn from Pew's survey sample of 3,082 consumers. Unless otherwise indicated, these splits exclude the set of approximately 300 individuals who reported that they had no cell phone of any kind. 

  • Race: Whereas 62 percent of white non-Hispanic (WNH) respondents had a smart phone, 68 and 70 percent, respectively of black and non-white Hispanic respondents had one. 
  • Age: Using a smart phone is fairly rare if you are over 65, but it is extremely common if you are young. Only one in six adults under the age of 30 lacks for a smart phone. Only one in five (19 percent) seniors has a smart phone, although almost three-quarters have a cell phone of some kind. 
  • Income: This is the exception to the overall theme. Well-off people are much more likely to have a smart phone than are people making less than $30,000. But at the same time, half of the poorest quartile had no land line at all. Fewer than half of individuals making less than $50,000 had both a cell phone (smart or not) and a land line (not smart). 
  • Region: This is an odd finding: people in the South are more likely to have a smart phone than anywhere else. 
  • Politics: Among cell phone users, it seems that your party affiliation is of no consequence in terms of predicting your likelihood of having a smart phone. But Democrats are two and one-half times more likely to have a landline and nothing else. Almost half of independents have only a cell phone and nothing else. Of those free thinkers, most have a smart phone. Those independents like to be secretive. Three percent of independents refused to indicate if they access the internet through any kind of device. Not to be outdone, four percent of Republicans refuse to indicated if they used email or the internet. 
  • Education: When asked "Is your cellphone a smart phone...or are you not sure", ten percent of individuals with a high school degree or less said that they did not know.  But there is an unusual distribution along lines of education. People with a high school degree or less are more likely than any other group to get by with only a landline, but they are also the ones most likely to use a cell phone only. Not surprisingly, college grads are the most likely group to have both a landline and a cell phone. 

All this matters when people talk about how the emergence of mobile banking stands to impact the financial lives of the traditionally-underserved. I wish there were crosstabs in this survey for "smart phone only" and "no bank account." I have to imagine that there is a solid segment within the smart phone only crowd that is under or un-banked. Indeed, while it can be necessary to pass some kind of credit test to get a post-paid telephone account (land or cell), there are more than a few opportunities to pay-as-you-go. Companies such as MetroPCS, Cricket, and Boost face a fantastic opportunity to develop a significant book of business in banking.