With a quickly growing network and a unique approach to person-to-person digital payments, Zelle is one of several digital payment services that are helping to disrupt the traditional banking model. However, Zelle’s distinctive approach allows it to offer its users benefits that competitors such as Venmo cannot. Because Zelle’s payment system is based on electronically transferring money directly from the sender’s bank account to that of the recipient, transaction times are shorter and transaction fees are lower than with services like Venmo. This puts Zelle in the position of potentially being able to take market share from more established and better-known Venmo.
Zelle’s instant payment service was initially launched in 2017 by Early Warning Services, a financial services company owned jointly by Ally Financial, Bank of America, BB&T, Capital One, JPMorgan Chase, Navy Federal Credit Union, PNC Bank, US Bank and Wells Fargo. Zelle is essentially an evolved and refined version of Early Warning Service’s clearXchange, a person-to-person payment system that operated from April 2011 to December 2017.
Since its inception, Zelle’s network has grown rapidly. According to VP Business Line Lead Jamie Armistead in an interview with Cherryh Cansler of Mobile Payments Today, Zelle currently has 186 participating institutions. Armistead also stated that Zelle is making inroads into the business-to-consumer payments space in addition to its primary person-to-person focus, noting that Zelle’s model makes it ideal for insurance companies looking to make disbursements to members and companies looking to process one-off payroll payments.
Of course, Zelle’s payment model does have some limitations. Because it sends and receives payment directly from a user’s bank account, the user’s bank must be part of the Zelle network in order to use the service—as does the recipient’s bank. Users with multiple bank accounts also face challenges, as Zelle currently allows each mobile number and e-mail address to be attached to just one bank account. While Armistead asserts that Zelle’s close partnership with large banking institutions and credit unions allows them to take advantage of the latter’s superior security, there’s still a risk of fraud, and payments can’t be cancelled once sent.
Still, for those who like the quick transaction times and fee-less transfers directly from their checking account, Zelle offers quite a few advantages over competitors like Venmo, helping ensure that it’s likely to remain an important player in the digital payment landscape in the near future.