All About Retail Banking: What It Is and How It Works

By Jacqueline DeMarco · May 29, 2024 · 6 minute read

We’re here to help! First and foremost, SoFi Learn strives to be a beneficial resource to you as you navigate your financial journey. Read more We develop content that covers a variety of financial topics. Sometimes, that content may include information about products, features, or services that SoFi does not provide. We aim to break down complicated concepts, loop you in on the latest trends, and keep you up-to-date on the stuff you can use to help get your money right. Read less

All About Retail Banking: What It Is and How It Works

Retail banking involves offering financial services to individual consumers rather than businesses or other banks. It encompasses a range of products and services, such as checking and savings accounts, mortgages, personal loans, credit cards, certificates of deposit (CDs), and more.

Retail banking is different from corporate banking, which is the part of the banking industry that serves large companies and corporate customers. Retail banks can be local community banks, online banks, or the divisions of large commercial banks. Credit unions also offer retail banking.

Read on for a closer look at what retail banking is and how it differs from corporate banking.

What Is Retail Banking?

Retail banking, also known as personal or consumer banking, refers to financial services provided to individuals. This type of banking is designed to serve the general public and to help people and families manage their money, obtain credit, and save for the future.

Retail banks focus on making banking services easily accessible, either through physical branches, ATMs, and/or online platforms. These banks play a crucial role in the economy by offering checking accounts, high-yield savings accounts, certificates of deposit, loans, and other financial products that help individuals safely store, manage, and grow their money.

Though some retail banks also work with small businesses, retail banking is different from corporate (also known as commercial) banking, which involves working with commercial entities, such as large businesses, governments, and institutions.

Most large-scale banks have retail banking divisions. Credit unions and smaller banks, on the other hand, may be exclusively focused on retail banking.

Recommended: 12 Things To Consider When Choosing A Bank

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How Does Retail Banking Work?

Retail banking works by offering financial products and services tailored to consumers. These services are designed to help individuals and families manage their finances efficiently, save for the future, and access credit cards and loans. Retail banks make money primarily through interest on loans, fees for services, and charges for various banking products.

Features of Retail Banking

Retail banking offers a hub for all of your basic financial transactions. Here’s a look at some of the products and services they provide.

•   Savings and checking accounts: Retail banks offer savings and checking accounts to help individuals manage their money. Savings accounts typically earn interest, while checking accounts provide easy access to funds for day-to-day transactions.

•   Consumer loans: Retail banks commonly offer personal loans, auto loans, and home mortgages. These loans can help people finance significant purchases or investments, such as buying a home or car.

•   Credit Cards: Retail banks issue credit cards that allow consumers to borrow money up to a certain limit for purchases. These cards often come with rewards, cash back, and other incentives.

•   Online and mobile banking: Retail banks typically provide online and mobile banking services, allowing you to manage your accounts, transfer money, pay bills, and access other banking services from your computer or smartphone.

•   Investment services: Some retail banks offer investment products like mutual funds, retirement accounts, and brokerage services to help customers build wealth over time.

•   Customer service: Retail banks typically emphasize customer service. Many provide personalized financial assistance through branch staff, call centers, and online support.

Types of Retail Banks

Retail banks come in various forms, each catering to different customer needs and preferences. Here’s a look at some of the main types of retail banks.

•   Commercial banks: Many people access retail banking through one of the large, commercial banks, which generally offer a retail banking division along with corporate banking services.

•   Credit unions: Credit unions are nonprofit financial institutions owned by their members. They often provide similar services to commercial banks but with a focus on serving the financial needs of their members, usually offering lower fees and better interest rates.

•   Online banks: Online banks operate exclusively online, without physical branches, though you typically have access to a partner network of ATMs. They often offer higher interest rates on savings accounts and lower fees due to reduced overhead costs.

•   Community Banks: Community banks are smaller, locally-focused institutions that prioritize serving the needs of their local communities. They offer personalized customer service and often have a strong understanding of their local markets.

Recommended: Big Banks vs Small Banks: Key Differences?

How Is Retail Banking Different From Corporate Banking?

Retail banking and corporate banking represent two different sectors of the banking industry, each serving different customer bases and offering different services.

Retail banking focuses on individual consumers, providing them with products like bank accounts, personal loans, and credit cards. Corporate banking, on the other hand, serves businesses and corporations, offering services like business bank accounts, commercial loans, trade finance, and employer services.

Transactions in retail banking are typically smaller in size and higher in volume compared to corporate banking, which tends to focus on larger, more complex transactions.

If you’re wondering whether you would be better served by retail vs. corporate banking, here’s a snapshot how the two compare.

Retail Banking Corporate Banking
Client base Individual consumers Businesses, institutions, banks, government entities
Products and services Personal checking/savings accounts, mortgages, personal loans, credit cards Business checking/saving accounts, business loans, merchant services, global trade services, employee benefits plans
Loan amounts Lower Higher
Transaction frequency and amounts High number of transactions for low amounts Low volume of transactions for more significant amounts

The Takeaway

Retail banking is the public face of banking that provides banking services directly to individual consumers rather than businesses or other banks. Most of us bank at a retail bank or retail division of a large commercial bank whether we realize it or not.

Whether you use a brick-and-mortar bank, online bank, or credit union, retail banking offers products and services that allow you to manage your money, access credit, save for the future, and work toward your financial goals.

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What is an example of retail banking?

An example of retail banking, also known as consumer banking, is when an individual opens a savings account at a local bank. The bank then allows them to deposit funds, withdraw money, and earn interest on their deposits. The same bank might also offer them a checking account for daily transactions, a mortgage to buy a home, and a credit card for everyday purchases. These services are all examples of retail banking, which is aimed at meeting the personal financial needs of individual consumers.

What are the largest retail banks?

The largest banks in the U.S. that offer retail banking include:

•   Chase

•   Bank of America

•   Wells Fargo

•   Citibank

•   U.S. Bank

•   PNC Bank

•   Goldman Sachs Bank

•   Truist Bank

•   Capital One

•   TD Bank

Who uses retail banking?

Retail banking is used by individual consumers to manage their personal finances. This includes:

•   Students

•   Young adults

•   Working professionals

•   Couples

•   Families

•   Retirees and seniors

•   Small business owners

What are the retail banking products?

Retail banking offers a variety of products and services tailored to the financial needs of individual consumers. These include:

•   Savings accounts

•   Checking accounts

•   Personal loans

•   Mortgages

•   Credit cards

•   Certificates of deposit (CDs)

•   Investment products

•   Online and mobile banking services

•   Debit cards

Photo credit: iStock/Passakorn Prothien

SoFi members with direct deposit activity can earn 4.60% annual percentage yield (APY) on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances. Direct Deposit means a recurring deposit of regular income to an account holder’s SoFi Checking or Savings account, including payroll, pension, or government benefit payments (e.g., Social Security), made by the account holder’s employer, payroll or benefits provider or government agency (“Direct Deposit”) via the Automated Clearing House (“ACH”) Network during a 30-day Evaluation Period (as defined below). Deposits that are not from an employer or government agency, including but not limited to check deposits, peer-to-peer transfers (e.g., transfers from PayPal, Venmo, etc.), merchant transactions (e.g., transactions from PayPal, Stripe, Square, etc.), and bank ACH funds transfers and wire transfers from external accounts, or are non-recurring in nature (e.g., IRS tax refunds), do not constitute Direct Deposit activity. There is no minimum Direct Deposit amount required to qualify for the stated interest rate.

As an alternative to direct deposit, SoFi members with Qualifying Deposits can earn 4.60% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances. Qualifying Deposits means one or more deposits that, in the aggregate, are equal to or greater than $5,000 to an account holder’s SoFi Checking and Savings account (“Qualifying Deposits”) during a 30-day Evaluation Period (as defined below). Qualifying Deposits only include those deposits from the following eligible sources: (i) ACH transfers, (ii) inbound wire transfers, (iii) peer-to-peer transfers (i.e., external transfers from PayPal, Venmo, etc. and internal peer-to-peer transfers from a SoFi account belonging to another account holder), (iv) check deposits, (v) instant funding to your SoFi Bank Debit Card, (vi) push payments to your SoFi Bank Debit Card, and (vii) cash deposits. Qualifying Deposits do not include: (i) transfers between an account holder’s Checking account, Savings account, and/or Vaults; (ii) interest payments; (iii) bonuses issued by SoFi Bank or its affiliates; or (iv) credits, reversals, and refunds from SoFi Bank, N.A. (“SoFi Bank”) or from a merchant.

SoFi Bank shall, in its sole discretion, assess each account holder’s Direct Deposit activity and Qualifying Deposits throughout each 30-Day Evaluation Period to determine the applicability of rates and may request additional documentation for verification of eligibility. The 30-Day Evaluation Period refers to the “Start Date” and “End Date” set forth on the APY Details page of your account, which comprises a period of 30 calendar days (the “30-Day Evaluation Period”). You can access the APY Details page at any time by logging into your SoFi account on the SoFi mobile app or SoFi website and selecting either (i) Banking > Savings > Current APY or (ii) Banking > Checking > Current APY. Upon receiving a Direct Deposit or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits to your account, you will begin earning 4.60% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% on checking balances on or before the following calendar day. You will continue to earn these APYs for (i) the remainder of the current 30-Day Evaluation Period and through the end of the subsequent 30-Day Evaluation Period and (ii) any following 30-day Evaluation Periods during which SoFi Bank determines you to have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits without interruption.

SoFi Bank reserves the right to grant a grace period to account holders following a change in Direct Deposit activity or Qualifying Deposits activity before adjusting rates. If SoFi Bank grants you a grace period, the dates for such grace period will be reflected on the APY Details page of your account. If SoFi Bank determines that you did not have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits during the current 30-day Evaluation Period and, if applicable, the grace period, then you will begin earning the rates earned by account holders without either Direct Deposit or Qualifying Deposits until you have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits in a subsequent 30-Day Evaluation Period. For the avoidance of doubt, an account holder with both Direct Deposit activity and Qualifying Deposits will earn the rates earned by account holders with Direct Deposit.

Members without either Direct Deposit activity or Qualifying Deposits, as determined by SoFi Bank, during a 30-Day Evaluation Period and, if applicable, the grace period, will earn 1.20% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances.

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