Zelle isn’t as cool as Venmo. That’s not stopping its growth.

Zelle’s payments volume jumped 59% in 2021 as more consumers turned to digital money transfers during the pandemic.

Zelle logo on a smartphone

After years of efforts, Zelle is part of a larger growth of real-time payments in the U.S.

Photoillustration: Thiago Prudencio/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The maker of Zelle saw a spike in usage of the real-time payments service in 2021, with more people using it for business payments.

Early Warning Services, the bank-owned company which operates Zelle, processed 1.8 billion payments in 2021, up 49% from 2020, with a value of $490 billion, up 59% annually, it reported Wednesday.

Early Warning represents banks’ interest in bringing a more modern form of financial services to consumers — its owners include Bank of America, Capital One, JPMorgan Chase, U.S. Bank and Wells Fargo.

After years of efforts, Zelle is part of a larger growth of real-time payments in the U.S. The Clearing House’s RTP network launched in 2017, and did 37.8 million transactions valued at $15.7 billion in the fourth quarter of 2021. It’s open to all federally insured U.S. depository firms. (Zelle uses RTP for some of its transactions.) And the Federal Reserve is aiming in 2023 to launch FedNow, its own real-time payments service, for which it just revealed pricing and credit limits.

The slow if steady progress comes as other countries have leapt far ahead of the U.S. in real-time payments: India, China and South Korea are notable examples.

If the U.S. is going to catch up, the Zelle service may play a big role. It’s now ubiquitous in the banking apps and websites that consumers use everyday — close to 10,000 financial institutions (up 3,000 from a year ago) now use Zelle either through a banking app or by using their debit cards with the Zelle app. Most consumers use Zelle on mobile devices, said Al Ko, CEO of Early Warning.

The Zelle app is a way for consumers to send Zelle payments if their bank doesn’t yet have a Zelle integration. But Early Warning is not looking at its app to compete with other payments apps. It’s more designed as a placeholder until banks are connected to Zelle, Ko said. After a bank adds Zelle, consumers are asked to switch to their bank’s app. That’s a key difference between Zelle and fintech apps like PayPal, Venmo or Block’s Cash App.

While the “overwhelming majority” of Zelle’s payments are peer-to-peer, there’s an increasing use of the service for businesses, Ko said. The average transaction size in the fourth quarter of 2021 was $272, which indicates more use for paying small businesses, he said.

“Banks are thrilled by it, because it's just engagement with their app that's just everyday useful, and people prefer that it's tied to the checking account, and then people prefer it because it's an app they already use,” Ko said.

Zelle is also working on a QR code feature that allows people to pay businesses, which is being used now on a limited basis but is not rolled out completely. That would mean consumers would not have to ask for a business’ email address or phone number to pay.

Zelle’s transfers move in three ways. They’re mainly done via ACH but more are increasingly moving through RTP. If a customer opts to connect their debit card through the Zelle app, it will move over Visa rails; that’s a relatively small number of transactions. But regardless of how it moves, for consumers, the transfer happens in seconds, even if it takes longer for banks to settle, Ko said.


Judge Zia Faruqui is trying to teach you crypto, one ‘SNL’ reference at a time

His decisions on major cryptocurrency cases have quoted "The Big Lebowski," "SNL," and "Dr. Strangelove." That’s because he wants you — yes, you — to read them.

The ways Zia Faruqui (right) has weighed on cases that have come before him can give lawyers clues as to what legal frameworks will pass muster.

Photo: Carolyn Van Houten/The Washington Post via Getty Images

“Cryptocurrency and related software analytics tools are ‘The wave of the future, Dude. One hundred percent electronic.’”

That’s not a quote from "The Big Lebowski" — at least, not directly. It’s a quote from a Washington, D.C., district court memorandum opinion on the role cryptocurrency analytics tools can play in government investigations. The author is Magistrate Judge Zia Faruqui.

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Veronica Irwin

Veronica Irwin (@vronirwin) is a San Francisco-based reporter at Protocol covering fintech. Previously she was at the San Francisco Examiner, covering tech from a hyper-local angle. Before that, her byline was featured in SF Weekly, The Nation, Techworker, Ms. Magazine and The Frisc.

The financial technology transformation is driving competition, creating consumer choice, and shaping the future of finance. Hear from seven fintech leaders who are reshaping the future of finance, and join the inaugural Financial Technology Association Fintech Summit to learn more.

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The Financial Technology Association (FTA) represents industry leaders shaping the future of finance. We champion the power of technology-centered financial services and advocate for the modernization of financial regulation to support inclusion and responsible innovation.

AWS CEO: The cloud isn’t just about technology

As AWS preps for its annual re:Invent conference, Adam Selipsky talks product strategy, support for hybrid environments, and the value of the cloud in uncertain economic times.

Photo: Noah Berger/Getty Images for Amazon Web Services

AWS is gearing up for re:Invent, its annual cloud computing conference where announcements this year are expected to focus on its end-to-end data strategy and delivering new industry-specific services.

It will be the second re:Invent with CEO Adam Selipsky as leader of the industry’s largest cloud provider after his return last year to AWS from data visualization company Tableau Software.

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Donna Goodison

Donna Goodison (@dgoodison) is Protocol's senior reporter focusing on enterprise infrastructure technology, from the 'Big 3' cloud computing providers to data centers. She previously covered the public cloud at CRN after 15 years as a business reporter for the Boston Herald. Based in Massachusetts, she also has worked as a Boston Globe freelancer, business reporter at the Boston Business Journal and real estate reporter at Banker & Tradesman after toiling at weekly newspapers.

Image: Protocol

We launched Protocol in February 2020 to cover the evolving power center of tech. It is with deep sadness that just under three years later, we are winding down the publication.

As of today, we will not publish any more stories. All of our newsletters, apart from our flagship, Source Code, will no longer be sent. Source Code will be published and sent for the next few weeks, but it will also close down in December.

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Bennett Richardson

Bennett Richardson ( @bennettrich) is the president of Protocol. Prior to joining Protocol in 2019, Bennett was executive director of global strategic partnerships at POLITICO, where he led strategic growth efforts including POLITICO's European expansion in Brussels and POLITICO's creative agency POLITICO Focus during his six years with the company. Prior to POLITICO, Bennett was co-founder and CMO of Hinge, the mobile dating company recently acquired by Match Group. Bennett began his career in digital and social brand marketing working with major brands across tech, energy, and health care at leading marketing and communications agencies including Edelman and GMMB. Bennett is originally from Portland, Maine, and received his bachelor's degree from Colgate University.


Why large enterprises struggle to find suitable platforms for MLops

As companies expand their use of AI beyond running just a few machine learning models, and as larger enterprises go from deploying hundreds of models to thousands and even millions of models, ML practitioners say that they have yet to find what they need from prepackaged MLops systems.

As companies expand their use of AI beyond running just a few machine learning models, ML practitioners say that they have yet to find what they need from prepackaged MLops systems.

Photo: artpartner-images via Getty Images

On any given day, Lily AI runs hundreds of machine learning models using computer vision and natural language processing that are customized for its retail and ecommerce clients to make website product recommendations, forecast demand, and plan merchandising. But this spring when the company was in the market for a machine learning operations platform to manage its expanding model roster, it wasn’t easy to find a suitable off-the-shelf system that could handle such a large number of models in deployment while also meeting other criteria.

Some MLops platforms are not well-suited for maintaining even more than 10 machine learning models when it comes to keeping track of data, navigating their user interfaces, or reporting capabilities, Matthew Nokleby, machine learning manager for Lily AI’s product intelligence team, told Protocol earlier this year. “The duct tape starts to show,” he said.

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Kate Kaye

Kate Kaye is an award-winning multimedia reporter digging deep and telling print, digital and audio stories. She covers AI and data for Protocol. Her reporting on AI and tech ethics issues has been published in OneZero, Fast Company, MIT Technology Review, CityLab, Ad Age and Digiday and heard on NPR. Kate is the creator of and is the author of "Campaign '08: A Turning Point for Digital Media," a book about how the 2008 presidential campaigns used digital media and data.

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