Chime Banking logo is seen displayed on a smartphone.
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Chime, the biggest U.S. digital bank start-up, is piloting a way for its users to receive their federal $1,200 stimulus checks instantly, weeks before the government is expected to send the payments.
The San Francisco-based company said it randomly picked 1,000 of its customers to get the payments Thursday using a feature called SpotMe that typically allows members to go negative in their accounts without incurring fees.
Since the bank is using its own capital to front the money until the government makes those payments, part of the historic $2 trillion coronavirus relief package signed into law last week, it is taking on some risk, according to CEO Chris Britt. If he gets reassurance from the government that Chime users can’t redirect stimulus payments to other bank accounts, he plans on expanding it to more of the bank’s 8 million users, he said.
“We think the aggressive action taken by the government is awesome, and we applaud it, but consumers need faster access to that money to pay their bills,” Britt said in a telephone interview. “We’re putting real dollars on the line, without interest rates or guarantees. We’d love to give it to more people. If we had greater certainty that the payments will hit our accounts, we’d do it.”
The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits surged by 10 million in the last two weeks, an unprecedented event caused by shutdowns as the country attempts to slow the spread of the coronavirus. That will inevitably cause widespread hardship, especially among people with little savings to begin with.
“I’ve been talking to Mark quite a bit, and he’s been vocal about companies helping out,” Britt said. “We were riffing on ideas on what to do. He said, ‘This sounds great, how do we roll it out to more people?'”
Users who receive the payments will typically be customers who direct-deposit paychecks into a Chime account and have had federal tax refunds deposited there.
The 7 year old start-up, which quadrupled its valuation last year to $5.8 billion as it rapidly grew its user base, has also been in contact with Treasury and elected officials about offering free accounts to people who are without checking services so that they can receive stimulus payments, Britt said.
Britt added that he hopes other fintech firms and big banks will follow the start-up in helping speed payments to Americans.
“We are legitimately trying to be good citizens,” Britt said. “What if Bank of America or other people did this too?”