It’s sounds incredible, but it’s true: in 21st Century America more than one in four households is either unbanked or underbanked, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation’s (FDIC) latest national survey. In addition, the ranks of the unbanked and underbanked are growing; the FDIC’s count includes 821,000 households where adults had bank accounts just a few years ago.

As startling as this may seem, a more disconcerting fact for financial institutions to consider is that young adults are far less likely to have bank accounts these days than are older consumers, according to the 2011 FDIC National Survey of Unbanked and Underbanked Households. After all, to grow banks and credit unions need strategies that attract new generations of customers, not keep them away.

Fortunately, mobile, prepaid and remote deposit capture technologies are being combined in ways that make it viable and affordable for banks and credit unions to chart growth strategies that will also help to mainstream the unbanked and underbanked.

Let’s consider the data. The FDIC’s numbers indicate that one in 12 U.S. households (about 10 million total) is unbanked: none of the 17 million adults living in these households has an account with a bank or credit union. Twenty-four million, or one in five households is underbanked. The FDIC defines an underbanked household as one where at least one adult has a bank account, but the household also uses alternative financial services (AFS) providers, like check cashers and prepaid debit card companies.

Among households headed by someone under the age of 24 just over half are unbanked or underbanked, the FDIC reports. Those headed by 25 to 34 year olds are only slightly less likely to shun banks, as just under 40% are unbanked or underbanked.

It’s not just low-earning consumers who are underbanked, either. In fact, a recent survey of 18 to 34 year olds (known as Gen Y, Millenials, or the “connected” generation) found those who are underbanked and earn more than the national average of $39,945 use AFS products with the same frequency as their less prosperous peers. Better than half (51%) of Gen Y consumers earning less than $25,000 a year use reloadable prepaid cards, according to the company Think Finance, as do 51% of those who earn between $50,000 and $74,999 a year.

On the other hand, nearly every American (87% at last count) has a mobile phone and more than half of those are “smart.” Among the 26- to 34-year-old crowd, in fact, 67% own smart phones or tablets, the consultancy AlixPartners reports. Although still the primary function, making phone calls is just one of about a dozen activities they use the devices for. At least 12% have used their smart phones or tablets to remotely deposit checks, according to AlixPartners.

Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve reports that nearly three out of 10 underbanked consumers have used mobile phones for basic banking functions, like paying bills and checking prepaid card balances. “The ubiquity of mobile phones is changing the way consumers access financial services,” the Fed wrote in a recent report.

Agreed! Financial institutions that don’t leverage this new delivery channel will find it difficult, if not impossible to attract new deposits and grow.

Convenience and the urgency of getting checks deposited are the top reasons why consumers use or want to use mobile RDC. Furthermore, for a growing number – especially Gen Y consumers with smartphones – mobile RDC is something they say they’d switch banks to have.

Convenience is a factor as well in the explosion of reloadable prepaid debit cards.

Mercator Advisory Services estimates that over $184 billion was deposited onto reloadable prepaid debit cards last year, up from $148.4 billion in 2010. These included payroll cards, health and government benefits cards, off-the-shelf MasterCard and Visa cards and about a dozen other prepaid applications.

Convenience is not just a catch-phrase. It is the most important consideration for many of life’s daily decisions, including where and how consumers deal with checks, because, after all, consumers of all ages continue to write and receive billions of checks a year.

Address the Need for Convenience with Mobile RDC

Mobile RDC is convenient. It’s hip. And it’s a proven customer magnet, especially when paired with reloadable prepaid debit cards. This powerful combination – mobile RDC and prepaid debit – can position a financial institution for growth by addressing the anytime, anyplace convenience demands of twenty-first Century consumers. Plus, it provides a practical alternative to traditional bank relationships for the country’s growing population of unbanked and underbanked, and a viable migration path for them to being fully banked.