Insider Picks writes about products and services to help you navigate when shopping online. Insider Inc. receives a commission from our affiliate partners when you buy through our links, but our reporting and recommendations are always independent and objective.
- The personal-finance startup Empower is part of new wave of online banks giving customers better banking features. With lower overhead costs, they can offer attractive cash-back rewards, higher savings interest rates, and no-fee transactions.
- Its debit card, accepted like a Visa card and compatible with Apple Pay, gets 1% cash back on the first $1,000 spent each month.
- Its savings-account interest rate is 2.15%. Compare that with the national-average interest rate, which ranges from 0.1% to 0.2%, with some traditional banks offering rates as low as 0.01%.
- These features work with Empower’s artificial-intelligence-powered assistant to help members earn more money with their bank and make smarter financial decisions.
Mention thousand-people wait lists, and I would assume you’re talking about the latest product launch from a millennial startup darling like Everlane. Personal-finance startups, however, can be equally skilled at generating buzz.
As much as millennials love spending money on clothing and beauty brands that do business differently, they’re also looking for new and different ways to manage that money, which is why, in late 2018, the personal-finance app Empower had more than 20,000 people put themselves on the wait list for its new mobile-banking product.
The first product from Empower, cofounded by a former Sequoia Capital partner and backed in part by Alexis Ohanian’s Initialized Capital, is a free personal-financial adviser that connects all your financial accounts, tracks your money, and helps you discover hidden savings.
The next step for the nearly 500,000-user-strong company was to take the traditional banking industry head-on. Empower CEO Warren Hogarth told Business Insider:
Our users were so frustrated with their existing banks and wanted something more seamless, more personal, and more rewarding. For the industry, it changes the game. Consumers can now get paid to bank and have complete control of their finances from their pocket.
Empower banking consists of a debit card and savings account, both insured up to $250,000 by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Members get 1% cash back on the first $1,000 charged to the debit card, which can be used anywhere Visa is accepted, and they have access to a network of 25,000 free ATMs, plus one out-of-network ATM reimbursement per month. The card can also be added to Apple Pay and used anywhere Apple Pay is accepted.
Rewards and a generous savings interest rate are key to hooking members. The cash-back reward is boosted to 2% when users refer their friends to Empower. The savings account has a 2.15% APY, which gets a boost to 4.30% with a friend referral. One user said he made more in interest in one month with Empower than he did in one year with Wells Fargo (with its 0.01% APY), capping off his review with: “Online banking is the future, people!”
Empower also gets rid of some of the most inconvenient features of traditional banking: fees and minimum balances. The usual list of add-on conditions, including monthly, overdraft, insufficient fund, and international transaction fees, are notably missing from its model.
All the while, the company’s artificial-intelligence-powered assistant is there to analyze your financial decisions and help you make better ones. It takes note of your spending behavior and patterns, sends instant notifications of debit-card transactions, and is available 24/7 via chat message.