Cash Out: Because the majority of Mango's cash is stored in an ATM outside, the store's interior can emphasize "open space and bright colors, instead of bulletproof glass and security cameras," says Bertrand Sosa, cofounder of Mpower Ventures. | Photograph by Misty Keasler

The Mango Store Lets You Bank Without Commitment

The Mango store lets people without a bank deposit checks, talk finances, and withdraw money — without ever opening an account.

One-fourth of American households don't have bank accounts. That's a sizable target for the $106 billion alternative-finance industry, whose oft-predatory practices center on cashing checks and wiring funds amid bulletproof glass, steel benches, and neon signs. For a person who makes $22,000 a year, the Brookings Institution calculates that paying fees on those services adds up to at least $1,000 — a 5% chunk of take-home pay. "There just wasn't a better option," says Bertrand Sosa, cofounder of Mpower Ventures.

So he made one from scratch. The Mango Store, which opened in Austin in April, reimagines the entire banking experience for this market. Rather than treat the unbanked as transient customers, Mango aims to forge transparent, long-term relationships. Clients pay a one-time $10 fee that lets them "cash" as many checks as they want by loading the money onto debit cards (backed by a local bank). More sophisticated services, such as international money transfers and bill payment, cost extra. Even so, Mango's operating costs — and, by extension, its fees — are significantly lower than other alt-finance outlets because it uses its own technology (developed by Mpower) and offers a multitude of services (including Web and mobile-phone apps). "It's a smart strategy," says Jennifer Tescher, director of the Center for Financial Services Innovation. "If Mango helps its customers grow financially, it can stick with them as they climb the ladder."

But first, it has to get them through the door. Tescher likens the store to "a cross between an Apple Store and a high-end yogurt shop," which could confuse patrons. Yet once customers are inside, Sosa says, the warm, spacious interior is designed "to educate customers and encourage them to stay awhile." Here's a look at a few notable features.

1. Cash Out

Because the majority of Mango's cash is stored in an ATM outside, the store's interior can emphasize "open space and bright colors, instead of bulletproof glass and security cameras," says Sosa.

2. Fly Solo

Once customers know the ropes, they can use the self-serve kiosks to check card balances and transfer funds to other Mango members.

3. Get Advice

"We wanted the experience to feel personal," Sosa says. Customers can consult bilingual finance coaches, who are trained to explain Mango's technology and offer financial advice.

4. Look and Learn

An LCD video terminal subtly schools visitors on financial matters and highlights various Mango services, such as the ability to text money via mobile phone. "It's a great way to educate customers while they wait," says Sosa.

5. See the Fees

Beyond advertising products and services, Mango's colorful wall banners clearly display fees to emphasize transparency.

Photograph by Misty Keasler

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  • Chuck Palmer

    This is a total win-win. Or in the words of the founders of Mango: The Double Bottom Line: Healthy profits and new social value. It is one of the best examples of of the prime directive of Consumer-Centricity: developing shared responsibility with your customers. Great thought leadership at Mango.

    I was fortunate to work with the Mango team on the original consumer engagement strategy and store design concepts. I learned a lot about how doing well and doing good can--and should--be interdependent.

    Here's a link to my blog post about the early work: ConsumerX: The Double Bottom Line: "Unbanked" Consumer Experience worth $106 Billion http://bit.ly/aKSsU1

    Congrats to the architects--they did a nice job on the execution.

  • Muchiri Nyaggah

    I love the idea!
    Aly-Khan, do you think with the new banking laws allowing agency banking we may begin to see these types of outlets in Kenya?


  • Aly-Khan Satchu

    Its a very interesting Concept. In many Parts of the 3rd World and especially here in Kenya, The Mobile Phone has in fact become a Mobile Wallet. M-Pesa, Safaricom's Money Transfer Product transferred 12% of Kenya GDP last year is expected to transfer 20% This year. It has been Revolutionary and disjunctive. Safaricom teamed up with a Bank here Equity Bank, in order to bring a more sophisticated Banking Suite to its M-Pesa Customers.

    The Interesting Thing here is that typically, Received Wisdom had it that a Branch Network was really too expensive a way of reaching the Bottom of the Pyramid.

    I would be very interested to know how Mango's Branches cross that Hurdle.

    Aly-Khan Satchu

  • Jonathan

    Congratulations. Was it by accident or design that this looks just like a Dolci Mango down to the color scheme?

    If it's on purpose, it's not a bad strategy... the friendly un-bank is a new concept, and you may have to take people by surprise in order to convert them ;-)