I set up my first bank account with Wells Fargo when I arrived for college in Colorado during the fall in 2001. It was in the local Safeway branch that was within walking distance from The University of Denver. It was convenient-ish to go down the street and get money out for the weekend. What really got the hooks in, though, was when I met my wife. She too had a Wells Fargo account and we just ended up merging all of the finances.
We opened business accounts and savings accounts. We took out a loan to pay for our badly needed new windows. We used these accounts for incredibly boring reasons and to do impressively mundane things like paying our mortgage and paying off student debt.
But, yesterday we quit doing even that. I went into a branch near my house and closed down every account that we had with Wells Fargo. After 21 years, we no longer have a need for them.
And, as I received the “close out” checks and signed the digital paperwork, I used my phone as my Digital ID (which is one of the more incredible things about Colorado). I then deposited those checks with my phone into our last checking account in existence (at Key). Then I went to get a coffee, using my watch to pay for it.
While I sipped that coffee, I read that Apple is enabling anyone to become a merchant and to receive payment just by tapping their phones together. For a while now, you have been able to send and receive money on your phone. Services like Venmo, Cash App, or Apple Pay Cash have become absolutely pervasive. So much so, that it seems odd in any situation that requires a “routing number” or a even a physical card.
So, am I a Bank now?
The things I used to need Wells Fargo for when I was 18 hardly seem to matter. Cash is almost nonexistent in my life, such that ATMs feel like a novelty. I have not written a check in years and I’m pretty sure my kids will never write one. All of my bills are paid online (even if I hate the little fees that some folks still think are appropriate). I pay people back with Venmo. I pay for services with Cash App. My phone provides more functionality and a higher level of service than a bank branch, and there are no minimum balances to worry about or weird transfer setups that are required in order to have a specific type of account that gives better interest rates. (This was an actual process we had to do for years at Wells Fargo, in which we had to create a monthly recurring $100 transfer back and forth between two business accounts.)
I still do very boring things with my money. I buy groceries. I pay off debt. I try to make good decisions about my credit. But, I have opened my very last bank account. And if I wanted to, I could manage everything from my phone (including getting paid with direct deposit.) I am convinced this is a good thing. It is progress for me, and for the rest of us for whom going into a bank is an incredible hassle. It is better to have the tools for commerce at my fingertips.
Just this week, I donated to political candidates who are advocating for equity via text. I gave money to a student who wrote something I found essential. I paid for a digital gaming service that gave my children a weekend of joy. This was all from my phone and without any friction whatsoever. These too are boring things to do with money, but I’m pretty sure they are fundamentally changing our relationship to our devices, to corporations, and to each other. Hopefully for the better.
[Caveat: All of the above is coming from a incredible place of privilege. I am well aware that many parts of the country still rely upon cash. I also know that being “unbanked” is a huge issue for folks who cannot establish credit or get loans. I am attempting to comment on the current state of my own personal banking needs and these observations are likely not widely representative of all generations, races, or socioeconomic levels. However, I believe that these advances in technology and practice have the potential to provide banking, credit development, and other services in a far more democratized fashion than previous eras. I hope this is leading us to a better and more equatable place with money, but I have certainly been wrong before.]