Blog Post
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May 18, 2021

How We Serve the Unbanked and Underbanked – And Why It’s a Win

Last month I talked about how my company and I have evolved over the years, from providing paper billing services to promoting inclusion. This month I want to share some concrete examples of what we’ve done and with whom and, most importantly, the results of our collective efforts.

A Few of Our Success Stories

Since the DivDat Kiosk Network launched in 2014, we’ve worked with local and regional organizations and entities to serve the unbanked and underbanked – the 25% of Americans who may not have a checking account, savings account, or credit card – and others. These partnerships have included:

The Wayne County Treasurer’s Office:
About five years ago, we partnered with the Wayne County Treasurer’s Office to provide more frictionless options for citizens to pay their property taxes. Additionally, we tailored the Treasurer’s Office payment application to offer taxpayers the option of a monthly payment plan. Before this initiative, the Wayne County foreclosure rate was the highest in the nation. Our program helped reduce foreclosures by some 83%, in large part by allowing some 30,000 people to use regular payment plans. This is particularly significant given Wayne County’s size — it is the 16th largest county in the United States.

The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD):
Not long after that, about four years ago, we worked with DWSD to include their payment application on around 40 kiosks located throughout the DWSD service area. Prior to our partnership, DWSD’s payment collection rate was approximately 65%; a year later, it was approximately 95%.

The 36th District Court:
More recently, in late 2018, a partnership with the 36th District Court enabled us to put an application for the payment of court fees and fines on our kiosks. Though it took a bit of time, there has been a direct impact on court collections, which were $1.9 million in 2019, but nearly $12.2 million in 2020 — an increase attributed by court personnel in significant part to the use of our kiosks.

Why Are These Success Stories — And for Whom?

We see these examples and others as success stories because in each instance — and every time we partner with someone to expand kiosk payment options and/or extend geographic access to kiosks — benefits accrue not only to the organization being paid, but also to the unbanked. And to the rest of us, too!

A Win for the Unbanked:
Most critically, DivDat payment kiosks are Leveling the Paying Field™ for the unbanked (and underbanked). I talked in a previous blog about the hidden costs of being unbanked. These costs include the time and transportation it takes to get to individual biller payment offices during regular business hours and the fees associated with bill-paying services when unbanked customers cannot pay those time and transportation costs.

To be clear, these are real and legitimate costs — not excuses. It’s not that most of the unbanked don’t want to or can’t pay their bills. In fact, it’s quite the opposite; they have a propensity to pay when they are able to do so.

DivDat payment kiosks are changing the landscape for the unbanked. Our kiosk network was conceived and operates to alleviate the costs of being unbanked, to remove barriers hindering the propensity to pay. Specifically, our kiosks are:

  • Deliberately located in places and spaces where people already live, work, and spend their time — like high-traffic grocery stores, busy community centers, and municipal offices serving large segments of the population
  • Functional 24/7, with placement in any given locale taking into consideration round-the-clock access
  • Designed to offer one-stop payments to multiple billers
  • Fee-free

There is no question that the DivDat kiosk network is a win for the unbanked: Regular user surveys place our customer satisfaction rate at 98% and our customer return rate at 96%.

A Win for Businesses, Governmental Agencies, and Other Entities:
The statistics cited in our success stories above speak for themselves – businesses, governmental agencies, and other entities notch a win in increased collections, increased revenues, decreased foreclosures, etc.

But they also win by taking advantage of the network effects our kiosks create. Our kiosks are already in the most convenient locations throughout southeast Michigan, and that service area will soon expand. And they are already where many of the unbanked and others go to pay multiple bills at once. It’s clearly the path of least resistance to leverage an already-existing – not to mention successful – network than to create one from scratch.

A Win for the Rest of Us:
It’s just one of life’s realities that when user-fee systems don’t function effectively or efficiently enough, some people pay more to make up for other people who pay less – or who don’t or can’t pay at all. Our payment kiosks change this equation by increasing collections from the unbanked, thereby decreasing the number and magnitude of rate increases passed along to the rest of us.

Beyond the monetary win, there’s the inclusivity win. By Leveling the Paying Field, by affording the unbanked the chance to move freely through a more convenient, cost-free bill payment system (as the rest of us already do), we promote inclusivity, which benefits not just the newly included but the larger community in which they exist.

The Bottom Line

We’ve worked hard in recent years to use technology to serve left-behind and left-out populations, knowing that current payment systems work extremely well and efficiently for billers but less well for certain populations of payers.

We believe we have a successful model with our kiosk network, demonstrated in partnerships that generate measurable benefits for our partners, the unbanked, and the rest of us as well.

What do you think? Are we measuring success the right way? Are we including the right applications on our kiosks? Are we working with the right partners? Drop a note in the comments or reach out to me directly. A year from now I hope to tell some new success stories!

Jason Bierkle is President and CEO of DivDat Kiosk Network and currently on a mission to promote the inclusion of the unbanked and underbanked in today’s online banking and bill paying services environment through free, convenient, self-serve payment kiosks.