Question for readers: Do any of you use “PopMoney”? Branchless online banking?

I am learning about this “branchless” online banking thing that is emerging.  I view it with suspicion.



About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. pberginjr says:

    My wife and I have used INGDirect for savings and checking (used to have much higher interest rates) for 4 years and been happy with it. Usually the bank has a partnership with a ATM conglomerate to make cash fairly acceptable. I’m unfamiliar with PopMoney…

  2. PhillipE says:

    I work for a bank and have not visited a branch in a long time. Online banking is relatively safe so long as your working from a secure internet connection and the bank’s security system is secure. Banks in the States have gotten better at the security but hackers are always one step ahead of everyone.

    If you’re going to use online banking though I would stick with a bank that does have actual brick and mortar branches that you can go to or call locally should a problem ever arise.

  3. acardnal says:

    . . . .and make sure it is a member of FDIC.

  4. PhillipE says:

    or the NCUA if you want to go with a local credit union. You tend to get better interest rates with them if you need loans because their non-profit and you’re part of the ownership.

  5. If I were to use this I would use Simple.

  6. liz says:

    I’ve used branchless Perkstreet for 18 months and have been very pleased with security, customer service, convenience of available atms etc. When I use debit card as credit I get % of sale as $ towards gift certificates…I use mine for amazon but there are other options.

  7. Gwen says:

    I have used branchless banking since 1983, and branchless online banking since the early 90s. I bank with USAA, United Services Automobile Association. Background: They started in 1922 as an insurance company for military officers. I joined at USAF Officer Training School in 1979; their insurance rates are great. Over the past few years, they’ve opened up membership to enlisted members, then to most veterans and families (for insurance).

    USAA opened USAA Federal Savings Bank in 1983, and banking, investment services, and credit cards are available to anyone (you don’t have to be in, or associated with, the military). Their HQ is in San Antonio. I have found them to be totally reliable and quite customer service oriented. Customer service agents are available 24/7, and you always get a human being on the phone, from anywhere in the world. They have a nifty iPhone app for depositing checks (take a picture and deposit right then) and moving money around, making investments, etc. They have a great deal for ATM withdrawals–they refund the service charge for using any ATM, even overseas. So I don’t have to worry about finding some specific ATM–I use any ATM for free.

    It’s a company built on military values and is very focused on military customers. I have IRAs, mutual funds, mortgages, checking account, and a (no-fee) credit card with USAA. I cannot imagine banking anywhere else.

  8. Alan Aversa says:

    @pberginjr: INGDirect donates to the world’s largest child-killing organization, Planned Parenthood, according to Life Decisions International.

  9. Chris Garton-Zavesky says:

    I would be suspicious of branch-less banks, because of an idea which Belloc described in Economics for Helen: the money comes to be “fiat money”, worth whatsoever the bank (or the government) says it is, since it exists more really in electronic form than as currency you can actually withdraw in person. I would be further suspicious of it because, like “self-checkout” at the supermarket, another human being is being replaced by a machine.

  10. Elizabeth R says:

    I second Gwen’s recommendation of USAA. They’ve been unfailingly helpful and courteous, including going out of their way repeatedly to help when I was dealing with the death of my husband, and later that of my father. I’ve been a member since 1970, and wouldn’t dream of switching.

  11. Elizabeth D says:

    Like Gwen, I use USAA which is just great. You do not have to be military, though they are military-oriented. You get your ATM fees refunded so you can use any ATM. You can request free postage paid envelopes to mail in checks to deposit. Their online banking is very good to use. You can call their 800 number and easily talk to a nice real person at their headquarters in San Antonio TX who will solve whatever your problem is. It is hard to imagine there is a better deal or more solid company to use than USAA. I have had USAA my entire adult life and never felt a need to have a branch bank to go to.

  12. daughter of poor gemma says:

    I’ve had an online checking account with Charles Schwab for a few years now. You can actually do banking in person at some of their brokerage locations, but I’ve never had to do so. The checking account pays me a tiny percent of interest every month, they provide Business Reply envelopes with your deposit slips (so no postage for sending in checks), they refund any ATM charges you might incur from using cash machines belonging to other banks, and they’ve been extremely helpful the few times I’ve had to call them. They have an iPhone app for depositing checks by photographing them, but I don’t have an iPhone so I haven’t tried that.

    I have savings accounts at ING Direct, which is another popular online bank. I haven’t tried their checking services, but their savings account setup is one of the easiest I’ve seen. It just takes a couple of clicks to create a sub-account to set money aside for something specific, which is a feature I’ve found quite useful.

    I’ve also heard lots of great things about USAA, but since neither I nor my parents were ever in the military, I’m not eligible, unless their rules have changed since the last time I was bank-shopping (and hit on Schwab, which I love, so I’m not complaining).

  13. Bea says:

    I view ALL online transactions with suspicion. You never know what hackers will do. It’s bad enough to worry about Identity Theft.

  14. Matthew says:

    Popmoney seems like an expensive way to send and receive money at 95 cents per.

    I too use USAA, I’ve never been to the bank in San Antonio in 25 years of banking with them.

  15. Gwen says:

    Daughter: USAA banking is open to anybody; you don’t have to be military.

    Chris G-Z: USAA’s branchless banking did not replace a human with a machine. They never had branches. They started out branchless, so there were no people out at branches to replace. Also, of all of the banks, mortgage companies, etc. that I’ve worked with, USAA is the one where you will actually get a person on the phone. It’s not all about “branches,” it’s about personal customer service.

    Bea: you might think that you are avoiding online transactions by walking into a bank branch. Not so. the only part of your transaction that is not online is the face-to-face encounter you have with the teller. Everything else is online. It’s important that you confirm the security procedures that your bank has in place to guard its online transactions.

  16. acroat says:

    No on line banking at all for us-hubby didn’t even want an ATM card-we have one but only use it to cash & almost always at an ATM at bank the account is held by.

  17. Melody says:

    I’d feel very wary of any bank without a physical branch. I use Chase’s online banking service quite frequently, but there is the reassurance that I can just go down the block and see someone in person if anything goes wrong. Also, there have been times I’ve purchased things in cash at greater amounts than I would feel comfortable taking out of an ATM.
    Also, Protip: Want to haggle on the price of a used car? Show up with the amount you want to spend, in cash. Also works for privately owned stores.

  18. LisaP. says:

    Looks like PopMoney isn’t online banking so much as a version of PayPal. You use your own bank, it’s a way of moving money around (like cards, checks, money orders, Western Union).

    I’d not use it because my small, good, local bank is not likely to be a member. I like anything that creates competition, and PayPal could use some, but I don’t like when a new fad encourages people even further in the trend to move to banking with a few large institutions. I avoid all the big banks like the plague these days, nevermind the political stuff, my personal experiences with Wells Fargo, Chase, etc. is enough to keep me away. Unfortunately, when every customer goes to Bank of America then the small banks have no way of staying in business.

    As for the online safety component, I agree you can’t make your transactions perfectly electronically safe, but you can do things that put them in more danger. The last time our numbers were stolen, word was it was probably because one of the local retailers (gas stations can do it) sent their info from the point of payment to another contact point using wireless. Essentially, some guy can sit in the parking lot with a device and pick up every number and maybe name. I bought a shelter dog from a sidewalk fair a month ago, the organization had an app on the Iphone? She could slide a card through to make a charge. She was having a heck of a time making the thing work, clearly didn’t understand how the system worked, could have lost their info or stored it or double charged the way she was working the thing, but there were still folks lined up and waiting an hour to pay that way instead of heading to the ATM across the street. I do think we auto-trust tech a bit too much.

    But I have no specific info on PopMoney, it’s new to me.

  19. Phil_NL says:

    The branchless aspect isn’t that exceptional, it just means a. they better have good customer service if things go wrong, or you’ll get seriously annoyed, having no opportunity to sort things out face-to-face, and b. they need a decent level of security, and a very decent one if they make it easier for you to pay third parties (easier payments = easier to divert money if bad guys get a toehold). I’d be wary on the latter count.

    And what is also important is if they offer merely transaction services (leaving the money in your existing bank account till you use their gizmo to transfer, judging from PopMoney’s site that’s their prime business model) or if they are truely a bank – in the latter case deposit insurance is definately something you’d want to check out.

    Also, slightly tangential perhaps, but for eurozone-dwellers like me, it’s about time to move (more) money out of this doomed currency of ours. For that, what would be really convenient is not a branchless bank, but one that doesn’t require a US mailing address… (tips welcome)

  20. Tina in Ashburn says:

    Knowing someone certified in Security and Privacy audits, my hair stands on end anytime I make an electronic transaction. Since all banks use electronic transactions and storage in some way or another, the better question is how the bank you choose has performed in internal audits. The ignorance of many bank employees is staggering and private information is at risk from the front-end [the website you use] to the hidden back end.

  21. heway says:

    everyone in our family belongs to USAA…great outfit!

  22. Mark R says:

    Charles Schwab is virtually branchless. I believe on must have a brokerage account in order to have a checking account. It is convenient for me because I do not like average banks and I have direct deposit for may pay. On occasion I receive a check, I mail it to an office which deposits it to my account or I schlep over to a brokerage office where I treat it as I would in a bank. I am reimbursed for all fees which are charged when I access my account via other auto tellers, Schwab having none.

  23. daughter of poor gemma says:

    Mark R said, “I believe on must have a brokerage account in order to have a checking account.”

    I don’t know if this is true or not. I have both checking and brokerage accounts, but my brokerage account is empty, always has been, and I’ve never been charged for having an empty account. They offer savings accounts as well.

  24. AnnAsher says:

    I second the mention of Charles Schwab Bank. I’ve had my accounts there since 2007. I’d never go elsewhere. Truly free and interest bearing checking and savings linked to brokerage. All ATM fees reimbursed. Checks are free. Postage paid deposit envelopes are free. I use their iPhone app and make my deposits with my phone. It’s super cool. I haven’t had one complaint. Security is great. Once I had charged from the islands of kits and Nevis. They caught it immediately. I got a geography lesson!

  25. AnnAsher says:

    I second the mention of Charles Schwab Bank. I’ve had my accounts there since 2007. I’d never go elsewhere. Truly free and interest bearing checking and savings linked to brokerage. All ATM fees reimbursed. Checks are free. Postage paid deposit envelopes are free. I use their iPhone app and make my deposits with my phone. It’s super cool. I haven’t had one complaint. Security is great. Once I had charged from the islands of kits and Nevis. (fraudulent )They caught it immediately. I got a geography lesson!

  26. AnnAsher says:

    You get the brokerage account as a “perk” you don’t have to use it (re Schwab)

  27. Tina in Ashburn says:

    I’ve always used a brick and mortar bank. In the branchless scenario, I understand that for actual cash deposits, one would use an ATM deposit drawer. Deposits made at ATMS take 5 business days. Checks can now be deposited as photos using your smartphone directly into your account.

    Never used Popmoney or heard of it til now. Sheesh, the things I learn from Fr Z.
    For more info, go to

    Popmoney is a service used among participating banks. [Banks use all sorts of third-paty services such as ‘automatic clearinghouse service’]. PopMoney uses FISERV, an acronym for Financial Services, an “acquiring” service. This is one way that money is parsed out to recipients. Today direct deposits, ACH debits and credits and transfers all go through this service.
    With today’s banking, there is rarely actual cash, money is just numbers on an encrypted DB2 mainframe database. Banking is a complexity of data transactions – actual currency is not transferred back and forth. So really, PopMoney isn’t anything exceptional, its just another method of transferring funds.

    For the common account holder, Popmoney uses an email address, mobile number, or a bank account number. A Popmoney user creates a message to transfer money or make a payment for another Popmoney user . The email address/mobile number must be recognized and authorized by the bank. Each individual bank will have its own twist on Popmoney, such as its webpage or text message styles. These transactions cost 95 cents, but you don’t need paper checks or gas to make that deposit, or I guess even spend bath water before you go out in public. The money amounts are limited, and the number of daily/monthly transactions are limited.

    So PopMoney will be as safe as the institution using it and their inherent processes. Many banks offer this service to account holders.

    My “adviser” on this information laughs as they describe money as nothing more than data transactions going to and from ‘files’ a.k.a. your accounts. One really effective cyber attack and well, yup the ‘adviser’ laughs, those t.v. ads are right, the only real wealth IS gold!

  28. LisaP. says:

    Tina — bath water — makes me laugh.
    Oh, and I’m a pessimist, so I think maybe at that point the only real money will be potatoes.

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