In 2012, the FDIC completed a one-year pilot initiative—the Model Safe Accounts Pilot—to provide insight into addressing the needs of unbanked and underbanked consumers. In Texas, about 1 in 3 of our households is either unbanked or underbanked, a much higher proportion than the U.S. as a whole. In the report, the FDIC defines “Safe Accounts” as “checkless, card-based electronic accounts” that only enable automated transactions. In addition, Safe Accounts must have low opening balance requirements ($10 for checking; $5 for savings), low monthly balance requirements ($1 for checking; $5 for savings), and a prohibition on overdraft/NSF fees. Overall, nine banks participated in the Safe Account pilot with promising results for account openings (3,500) and retention (80% for transaction and 95% or savings) over the one-year period. In fact, these Safe Accounts “performed on par with or better than other transaction and savings accounts,” according to the FDIC. For pilot banks, these retention rates exceeded expectations across the board.
For OpportunityTexas, we are particularly interested in promoting savings and expanding access to suitable savings accounts for the low and moderate income (LMI) marketplace. During the FDIC pilot, savings accounts made up four out of every five (81.3%) accounts opened. Although no Texas banks participated in the FDIC pilot, this initiative may provide some insight into existing and emerging efforts to increase account holding and promote successful savings. With several “Bank On” efforts underway, existing campaigns’ promotion and tracking of savings account activity would be a good first step in expanding savings account enrollment statewide. Additionally, as OpportunityTexas is poised to extend its tax time savings project to include savings accounts that will be matched over a one-year timeframe, the FDIC pilot offers optimism that suitable savings accounts can be extended to a broader consumer base. We encourage local “Bank On” campaigns, AEIs and other Asset-Building coalitions to create their own local directories. If you are interested in getting involved or would like to know more, please contact us at