The arrangement will give Google a potential trove of new data about spending habits, income and other details, valuable for better understanding consumers. But it will probably face scrutiny as part of a broad investigation of Google from regulators and state attorneys general.
Known as Cache, the banking program was reported earlier by the Wall Street Journal.
Details of the checking accounts, such as fees and limits, weren’t immediately available. With a plethora of mobile, online and traditional banking options available, Google will have to differentiate Cache from competitors to persuade consumers to switch.
Google joins tech giants including Facebook, which is working to launch a cryptocurrency known as Libra, and Apple, which has its mobile wallet and a credit card, that have pushed into the financial services industry.
U.S. banks have struggled with how to react to Silicon Valley’s encroachment into the banking world. Some have partnered with tech start-ups in hopes of gaining access to younger consumers who may rebuff traditional banks but could need a mortgage or small-business loan later in life.
But the industry has fought efforts by tech companies to provide some banking services directly to consumers. Square, a mobile payments company, and Rakuten, known as the Amazon of Japan and operator of U.S. rewards program Ebates, have applied for a special banking license that would allow them to offer checking and savings accounts.
Walmart attempted to obtain such a license over a decade ago but retreated amid aggressive resistance from the banking sector. The industry is expected to mount a similar campaign against Rakuten and Square.
Google is taking a potentially less-threatening route by partnering with Citigroup, which would control the regulatory pipes of the checking accounts offered by the tech giant. But some senior executives have cautioned that tech companies could leverage such relationships into building their own financial infrastructure or siphon off valuable consumer data.
Citigroup and Google will be co-branded on the accounts.
Google is seizing upon a growing market for mobile wallets. eMarketer estimated about 55 million U.S. consumers used them in 2018, 7 million more the year before. It will rise to 61.6 million this year, according to eMarketer. Still, Google is the third-largest, trailing Apple and Starbucks.
Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), who sits on the Senate panel overseeing banking, said on CNBC on Wednesday that he had concerns about technology companies getting too deep into banking and that additional regulation may be needed.
“There ought to be very strict scrutiny,” he said.