Zelle, the digital payments service run by a group of banks, is seeking to showcase the popularity of its instant payment services even as lawmakers and lawsuits draw attention to fraud on the system.
In a press release last week, Zelle underscored that its business has been growing at a fast clip over the past five years, with $1.5 trillion moving across the network in five billion transactions since its launch in 2017. It also stressed that fraudulent transactions make up less than 1% of transactions and, perhaps not surprisingly given its growth, have been declining as a percentage of overall payments volume.
For the second quarter this year, the volume of payments flowing through the Zelle Network rose 27% to 554 million transactions over the year-ago period, and their value climbed 29% to $155 billion, the release said.
Some 99.9% of Zelle payments “are sent without any report of fraud or scams,” the Sept. 8 release said. Still, a spokesperson for Zelle’s parent company, Early Warning Services, declined to comment on what the total number of tainted transactions is and how the tally has changed in recent years.
The group of big banks that own and operate Zelle through EWS include Wells Fargo, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Capital One, U.S. Bank, Truist Financial and PNC Bank.
The company’s effort to emphasize the popularity of its payments tool by showcasing its growth volume comes as some Democratic U.S. senators have slammed Zelle in recent months over its inability to deter and resolve scams in which consumers send money to fraudsters. Some of the bilked Zelle users have created more bad headlines for the company by suing the money transfer service this year over the fraud.
Despite the concerns, Zelle executives showcased the growth in demand for the payment services this month. While they also acknowledged the fraud and said the company continues to seek to reduce it, their message sounded a more positive note about how the company’s instant payments service is gaining traction.
“The P2P segment continues to grow at a strong double-digit pace, even though we've been around for five years,” Sean Loosli, the company’s head of consumer and small business payments, said in an interview this month. “But we're also really excited about the other segments that we're serving, including small business and disbursements. So those growth rates are even more impressive.”
Aside from the increase in peer-to-peer payments via Zelle, Loosli also touted the rising use of the network by small businesses to pay employees, contractors and consumers.
While the company serviced a couple dozen financial institutions at its start, it now counts 1,700 banks and credit unions as clients, including an increasing number of smaller banks and minority depository institutions, Loosli said. Zelle also has contracted with several hundred more to join the network, he said.
Similarly, Early Warning Services CEO Albert Ko in a separate news report emphasized the rising use of Zelle instant payments by lower-income consumers for bill payments.
Since last year, Zelle has increased marketing spending to bolster its commercial advertising, and that has included targeting demographics, such as older generations, that haven’t generally used the service as much.
Despite the Zelle publicity campaign, scrutiny from Congress may not taper off anytime soon. Indeed, one Wells Fargo senior vice president in the payments area, Michelle Ziolkowski, speaking on a panel at the Midwest Acquirers Association conference in July said her bank’s CEO would soon address concerns about Zelle at a congressional hearing.
She may have been referring to an upcoming hearing of the Senate Banking Committee later this month where bank CEOs are expected to testify. A spokesperson for the San Francisco-based bank declined to comment on that possibility.
”We are continuing to prioritize the consumer safety and protecting the participant banks in our network and the credit unions and are really pleased about the results that we're seeing and, at the same time, never content with any amount of people using Zelle for things that they shouldn't be, so actively working to both educate consumers and small businesses, as well as work to protect the product through our own technological and product means,” Loosli said.
A spokesperson for Scottsdale, Arizona-based Early Warning Services declined to comment on that upcoming hearing possibility.
Loosli explained how the company is building “positive friction” into Zelle, with communication safeguards that ask consumers if they’re sure they know the person they’re sending money to and that ask them to confirm the payments before they are sent.
“We feel like we’ve got a great track record,” he said of the company’s efforts to combat the fraud.