Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

American banks are minting money. In 2018, they made $237 billion in profits, bringing their average return on assets to an extremely healthy 1.35%. That's up from 0.97% in 2017. With banking so profitable, a lot of new players are looking to get in on the game, or to increase their market share.

The big picture: In a tech-obsessed world, a broad range of institutions have decided that the future of banking lies in apps. The logic is simple: Increasingly, Americans want to bank on their phones, rather than in expensive-to-maintain branches, so banks should give them what they want.

  • Goldman Sachs, which already has an online savings account called Marcus and a cash-management app called Clarity, is reportedly going to launch a new card designed for iPhones in particular. Expect something beautiful, designed by Apple.
  • Aspiration, an eco-friendly mobile-first bank, has relaunched its product with a slew of attractive features including cash back on debit card purchases, zero ATM fees worldwide, and 2% interest on deposits.
  • Varo offers a savings account paying as much as 2.8% to customers who use its checking product.
  • Other neobanks including Chime, Acorns, and Simple are also competing hard; even JPMorgan Chase has one, called Finn.
  • Banks, prepaid debit cards, and brokerages are all blurring into each other, offering much the same products. Look at SoFi Money, for example, or at the new Wealthfront savings product, which promises to support bill payment soon. Expect it to have a debit card, too.
Expand chart
Data: Marqeta survey of 1,200 U.S. adults conducted Jan. 16-18, 2019 with a margin of error of ±3 percent; Chart: Naema Ahmed / Axios

The state of play: Most mobile-first banks target millennial customers, on the grounds that they are less wedded to their existing banks and are more likely to constantly be on their phones. But a new survey from Marqeta, a fintech startup backed by Goldman Sachs and Visa, shows that Gen Xers are just as likely to have moved to such a bank, and are just as likely to want to move.

The bottom line: None of these products are particularly revolutionary, except insofar as their users tend not to hate them. If and when winners start to emerge, expect them to be acquired by the major banks, at which point Actually Pleasant Banking might start to become a mass-market phenomenon.

Go deeper: Despite rise of mobile money, millions still outside U.S. bank system

Go deeper

Republicans condemn Trump's refusal to commit to peaceful transfer of power

Photo: Joshua Roberts/Getty Images

A number of prominent Republican lawmakers have condemned President Trump's refusal on Wednesday to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he loses November's presidential election.

Driving the news: Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.), the House's #3 Republican, tweeted, "The peaceful transfer of power is enshrined in our Constitution and fundamental to the survival of our Republic. America’s leaders swear an oath to the Constitution. We will uphold that oath."

20 mins ago - Technology

Pandemic spurs journalists to go it alone via email

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

A slew of high-profile journalists have recently announced they are leaving newsrooms to launch their own, independent brands, mostly via email newsletters.

Context: Many of those writers, working with new technology companies like Substack, TinyLetter, Lede or Ghost, have made the transition amid the pandemic.

Updated 30 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 9 a.m. ET: 31,926,175 — Total deaths: 977,357 — Total recoveries: 22,004,598Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 9 a.m ET: 6,935,556 — Total deaths: 201,920 — Total recoveries: 2,670,256 — Total tests: 97,459,742Map.
  3. Health: The coronavirus is surging again — Johnson & Johnson begins large phase 3 trial — The FDA plans to toughen standards.
  4. Politics: Missouri Gov. Mike Parson tests positive for coronavirus — Poll says 51% of Republicans trust Trump on coronavirus more than the CDC.
  5. Technology: The tech solutions of 2020 may be sapping our resolve to beat the coronavirus
  6. Sports: Here's what college basketball will look like this season.

Get Axios AM in your inbox

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!