Zelle’s explosive growth may signal problems ahead for Venmo

By the numbers: Both Zelle and PayPal’s Venmo finished out 2021 strong, with impressive growth in peer-to-peer (P2P) transaction volume.

  • In 2021, Zelle processed 1.8 billion payments, representing 49% year over year (YoY) growth, an impressive jump despite being slower growth than 2020’s 62%. Total transaction volume for the year also shot up 59%, totaling $490 billion.
  • In Q4, Venmo’s volume grew 29% YoY to reach $61 billion, also slower than the 36% notched in Q3. For the year, Venmo’s volume jumped 44% YoY to reach $230 billion.

What’s next: Zelle and Venmo are both trying to push this momentum into 2022.

  • Al Ko, CEO of Zelle’s operator, Early Warning, said the “overwhelming majority” of Zelle’s payments are P2P, but more businesses are starting to use the service: Zelle payments received by small businesses increased 162% YoY in 2021. And Zelle’s average transaction size for Q4 2021 was $272, indicating more small business payments. To further its growth in the segment, Zelle plans to roll out a QR code feature being piloted that lets users easily pay businesses.
  • Venmo is also pushing further into retail payments. In November, the payments giant announced a partnership with Amazon to add Venmo as a checkout option on Amazon.com and its mobile app starting in 2022. Given Amazon’s massive scale—its US retail ecommerce sales are projected to hit $376.57 billion this year, per our forecasts—the partnership could create a huge jump in its payments volume.

The bigger picture: US P2P mobile payment transaction value is projected to reach $983.85 billion in 2022, a 25.3% YoY increase, according to our forecasts.

Despite Venmo’s popularity, especially with younger generations, Zelle’s bank-based integration could help it become even more dominant in the P2P space. Its relationship with banks improves customers’ trust in the platform and can attract users who may otherwise be wary of P2P services.

Leaning into this demand for bank-backed P2P systems, community and mid-sized banking association Alloy Labs Alliance launched Chuck, an open network for instant payments that plans to compete with Zelle. Chuck is a network for community banks that offers a lower fee structure than Zelle—although with those lower fees comes a lower transaction ceiling. If Chuck successfully builds out its network and the service takes off, it would increase competition in the space and could cut into Zelle’s growth potential.