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How to offer instant payouts

With embedded banking, you can pay your users on demand. Learn why that's so valuable, how it works, and take three simple steps to get started.

Last updated:

December 4, 2023

7 minutes

Instant payouts are becoming table stakes for SaaS platforms and marketplaces

Your customers want faster access to their money—and they’re willing to switch platforms to get it.

According to a recent study from the Federal Reserve, 60% of American companies are prioritizing faster payouts for their customers. In fact, 54% of small businesses say they would actually pay a fee to receive them.

In many industries, “instant payouts” or “on-demand payouts”—where funds become available in your customers’ bank accounts within moments of completing a transaction—are becoming the standard. If you don’t offer them, your competitors will.

The Uber Pro debit card is a great example. When Uber drivers opt in to this debit card, they automatically get paid out within five seconds of completing a ride. Other prominent platforms that offer this functionality include Lyft, Instacart, Lugg, Care.com, Veryable, Walmart, Kroger, and Domino’s—to name just a few.

Are you a tech leader at a SaaS platform or a marketplace that accepts payments and pays out to its customers? If so, this guide is for you. In it, we’ll discuss how (and why) to offer instant payouts via embedded banking, including:

  • Why offer instant payouts?
  • What companies are doing it today?
  • What are the different ways to offer instant payouts?
  • How do they differ in terms of user experience, economics, and adoption?
  • How do I get started?

The business case for instant payouts

As we’ve seen, many end-customers—especially small businesses and gig-economy workers—struggle with cash flow. Increasingly, they expect instant payouts immediately after providing a service or delivering a product.

For example, nearly 80% of gig workers report having less than $500 saved for an emergency, and nearly 90% said they were more likely to choose a platform that offered faster payouts.

But, beyond offering customers a better experience, why does it make sense for you to offer instant payouts? There are a few key reasons:

  • Revenue. Customers are willing to pay for faster access to their money—whether in the form of SaaS tiers or per-payment fees. As we’ll see later, instant payouts via embedded banking can also lay the groundwork for five robust new revenue streams, leading to a dramatic 2-5x increase in overall revenue.
  • Acquisition. When you offer instant payouts, you differentiate your product, making it easier to acquire customers—and at a lower cost.
  • Engagement. When customers can request instant payouts, they log in more often and spend more time on your app or website.
  • Retention and satisfaction. Customers who can get instant access to their funds are more satisfied and less likely to decamp for a competitor.

Finally, instant payouts are a great foundation on which to build additional financial products. For example, you could take what you know about your customers’ cash flow and use it to underwrite embedded lending use cases like invoice factoring or cash advances.

Why is offering instant payouts so challenging?

Taking a step back: why does it take so long for funds to move and become available in your customers’ bank accounts?

The answer is that transferring money from one US bank account to another is complex, costly, and time-consuming—especially when it involves multiple account holders with different banks. It requires providing a secure and trusted way for banks to communicate and send funds, as well as tools to mitigate fraud.

At present, the most common way to move money between bank accounts in the United States is ACH; it accounts for nearly 70% of all US payments by dollar value. 

As payment methods go, ACH is cost-effective but slow: it generally takes 2-5 business days for funds to “settle” in the payee’s account. If you want faster payouts, you’ll either have to pay a premium (e.g., same-day ACH) or keep the funds in your ecosystem (more on this below).

What about instant-payment rails like RTP and FedNow? In recent months, much has been written about the potential of these newer methods to transform the American payments landscape—and that may eventually happen.

But, so far at least, these solutions have seen limited adoption. For example, RTP has been around for five years, but it only covers 65% of financial institutions, and it accounts for less than 1% of the volume of all US transactions by dollar value.

How to offer instant payouts via embedded banking

To show how it works, let’s use an example. Say you’re the VP of Product at Kabin, a marketplace for vacation rentals.

It’s Monday. A guest books a stay with one of your hosts and prepays $1,000, which is non-refundable. At any point during the week, the host can tap a button in the Kabin app and request to move some or all of those funds to their Kabin Balance checking account.

  1. Let’s say they request to move all $1,000. That triggers an ACH transfer from the bank that processes your card payments (say, Wells Fargo) to the host’s Kabin Balance account (held with your bank partner).
  1. At the same moment, you also make a programmatic API call to execute a $1,000 “book payment.” Book payments are transfers between accounts at the same bank; they’re instantaneous and free to you (although your customers may be willing to pay a fee for the convenience).
  1. This book payment transfers funds from a Kabin operational account to your customer’s Kabin Balance account. That means your customer can access the funds within five seconds of tapping the button in the Kabin app.
  1. When the original ACH payment settles in their account, you’ll automatically recover the funds via a second API call.

And that’s it. You don’t need to build a ledger or any other banking technology. You simply need to 1) find a trusted partner to facilitate these transfers and 2) furnish the operational capital needed to provide instant payouts until the original payment settles.

It’s worth noting that embedded banking isn’t just valuable for your customers—it’s also a rich source of revenue, data, and loyalty for your company. Contrast this with other ways of offering instant payouts (e.g., same-day ACH), which are cost centers rather than revenue generators for companies that use them.

Three simple steps to get started

If you know when and how much your customers are getting paid—good news. You’re in a great position to enable instant payouts.

Modern payment processors (and many other kinds of companies) allow you to programmatically access this information via API. For example, say your customer is getting paid by Adyen. 

As soon as the payment is initiated, you can arrange to be notified via API—despite the fact that the funds won’t land in your customer’s account for another 2-5 business days. (Learn how to connect your payment processor with your embedded bank accounts in our guide.)

If you’re ready to get started, follow these three simple steps:

  1. Launch embedded bank accounts. For most tech companies, the best way to do this involves partnering with a banking-as-a-service platform that can streamline the complexities of bank relationships, compliance, and technology.
  1. Provide instant payouts. At this point, you know a payment to your customer has been initiated by a reputable source. Rather than wait 2-5 days for the funds to land in their account, you provide them with the funds right away—either automatically, or via a button in your app. 
  1. Recoup the funds after settlement. Once the original transaction has settled in your customer’s account, you can arrange to programmatically be repaid.

Unit is a modern financial infrastructure platform that helps tech companies store, move, and lend money. To date, we’ve helped nearly 200 leading brands launch embedded banking and lending products—including instant payouts. 

Want to learn more about instant payouts? Ready to take the next step? Reach out to our sales team or start building in our sandbox.

Originally published:

July 6, 2023

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