ATLANTA — In the age of technology, tech-based banking apps have millions of fans.
“Eliminating overdraft fees, the adoption of being able to get a paycheck two days early was one of the early draws of the financial technology companies,” explained Alex Horowitz, researcher for Pew Charitable Trust’s Consumer Finance Project.
However, many customers, like Eva Potter, said those promises aren’t being kept.
“You're supposed to be able to get paid two days early," Potter said. "That happened zero times. I never got my paycheck from Jan. 15.”
Potter used Chime, a financial technology, or "fintech," company. Chime’s website explicitly states they’re not a bank, and that the nearly 15 million accounts they manage are FDIC insured up to $250,000 each.
But experts said fintech customers don’t get the same federal protections they’d have with a normal bank.
"Fintech providers ought to be following the same rules as banks, but they're not supervised in the same way," said Horowitz.
He said their agency is clocking a growing number of complaints from fintech customers who say their money has been delayed, or even disappeared, with little to no explanation.
"There is certainly been more notice because of the complaints from consumers who have had their accounts closed suddenly or been unable to access their funds," he explained.
Another couple who signed up for Chime said that’s what happened to them.
“It's been really, really scary not knowing, like, are we going to make our rent this month or like, afford our groceries this week? It's terrifying," said Carly Scorpio.
Scorpio and her boyfriend, Jimmy Carlson, said they decided to cash out the $6,500 in their Chime account, but said the check was flagged as fraudulent.
“Nobody could tell me how this happened, why it was flagged as fraudulent," Carlson said. "All they could tell me every time was that the money's gone and that there's nothing that we can do.”
The couple said they’ve had trouble getting in touch with anyone at Chime to resolve the issue.
“It's just like absolutely brutal that everything's designed, it feels like, to not help you on purpose because they're not regulated," Carlson said. "It's like, we don't have to help you.”
There have been more than 7,700 Better Business Bureau complaints filed against Chime in the last three years.
More than half of the complaints in Georgia were from people unable to access their money, or had their accounts closed unexpectedly. The zip codes filing the most complaints in Georgia include 30233 (Griffin), 30038 (Lithonia Stonecrest) and 30349 (Atlanta South Fulton).
Horowitz explained fintech customers should report any issues to the federal government.
"Because the bank regulators only cover banks, the only federal regulator here is the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau," he said. "They accept complaints from consumers when something goes wrong, such as not being able to access their funds or experiencing fraud.”
For many, it had been a hard lesson learned -- to read the fine print.
"Neither one of us know anything about fintech companies until all this happened," Scorpio said.
"They have to be held to the same exact accountability that a big bank does. And that's and that's the bottom line.”
A Chime spokesperson said they’ve launched investigations into Potter and Carlson's complaints. In a statement they told 11Alive the following:
"While we're not able to share additional specifics to protect the privacy of our members, our support team is standing by to assist these individuals with any outstanding needs. Our team is available 24/7, 365 days a year via live phone, email, in-app, chat and social channel support.
Chime is one of the most downloaded and loved banking apps in the U.S. As a financial technology company, we create financial products in full partnership with our partner banks. Chime members’ deposits sit in fully FDIC insured accounts and are subject to the same oversight and regulations and offer the same consumer protections that traditional banks offer."
People impacted can file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau here.