Shaking the industry up once again, T-Mobile is going where no wireless carrier has gone before, extending its so-called “un-carrier” movement into the realm of personal finance. The U.S.’s fourth-largest wireless carrier is working to transform smartphones into personal money managers that can free people from excessive fees they often pay to use their own money.
Dubbed Mobile Money by T-Mobile, the service aims to help counter trends like rising ATM, overdraft and monthly maintenance fees. Mobile Money combines a smartphone money management app that works with a reloadable T-Mobile prepaid Visa card. There are no fees for the card if you’re a T-Mobile customer.
"We've already transformed how Americans use and pay for phones, tablets and wireless service; why stop there?" asked John Legere, president and CEO of T-Mobile. "Millions of Americans pay outrageous fees to check cashers, payday lenders and other predatory businesses -- just for the right to use their own money. Mobile Money shifts the balance of power for T-Mobile customers and keeps more money in their pockets."
Facts and Figures
Again, the cost is zero. There is no charge for activation, monthly maintenance, in-network ATM withdrawals, or for replacing lost or stolen cards. No minimum balances are required. No overdraft fees can be incurred. And there are no unnecessary trips to the bank or a check casher.
Mobile Money allows for direct depositing paychecks, depositing checks from capable smartphone cameras, making retail purchases, paying bills and withdrawing cash from more than 42,000 in-network ATMs nationwide with no ATM fees.
Of course, T-Mobile isn’t a complete stranger to personal financing products. The company offers customers the option to finance smartphone purchases, but this takes the opportunity to a whole new level -- and the 68 million U.S. adults the FDIC estimates don’t have traditional accounts may welcome it.
"It's ridiculous that families, especially those who can least afford it, have to pay so much for basic check-cashing services that many of us take for granted," said Mike Sievert, chief marketing officer for T-Mobile. "Mobile Money levels the playing field to put money back in consumers' pockets for important things -- like bills, groceries or vacations. The typical household using a check casher to cash their paychecks could save about $1,500 per year, and customers tired of getting hit with overdraft fees can switch and save an average of $225 a year."
Too Much, Too Fast?
We caught up with Jeff Kagan, an independent technology analyst, to get his take on the new program. Although he gives T-Mobile kudos for the recent turnaround, he told us when a company steps way ahead of it's own headlights you need to simply wait and watch.
“This would be a big step for any wireless carrier, even the ones who are doing strong business. However, for T-Mobile to step into the new space when they are still just a couple quarters into a recovery makes many feel a bit uncomfortable,” Kagan said. “Not that this is not a good idea, it is. Not that they can't be successful, they might be. But they have a long way to go to strengthen themselves financially before they start wandering outside the lines.”
Then again, Kagan continued, that's what CEO John Legere does -- he loves to color outside the lines and it has worked so far. Legere could find huge success with Mobile Money. In any case, the move demonstrates how the wireless industry is and will continue to expand beyond traditional services. Kagan said that’s where the growth is.
“Companies like AT&T and Verizon are expanding into healthcare, automotive, retail and other industries. So it looks like T-Mobile is now starting their first expansion into this world of money,” Kagan said. “The next question is, since T Mobile customers seem to be young Americans, will this be a service only interesting to the young, or will it help them grow beyond this first stage?”