The Real Reason TikTok Users Compared Starbucks To A Bank

Imagine, if you will, you're getting some coffee at your local Starbucks. You go up to the counter, ask for a Caramel Macchiato and "20 for the road." Your barista gladly serves you your coffee before reaching into the register and handing you $20. With coffee and cash withdrawal in hand, your barista thanks you for "choosing Starbucks as your place to bank."

This idea, obviously, is nothing but fiction. But to one TikTok user, the idea that Starbucks operates as a clandestine bank behind the modern interiors and brewing machines isn't too far-fetched. According to user @IndexVentures, when people load money into their Starbucks app, it's no different than depositing money into one's bank account. She explains that, in 2019, because of this app structure, Starbucks held more money — about $1.5 billion in balances — than most banks have in their deposits. The user also claimed that this "banking model" benefits the coffee chain in two ways: They are free to spend the money however they see fit when it's deposited through the mobile app and, since they don't have to follow the rules of a "normal bank," the company doesn't have to give withdrawals to customers. "Even better," the user continues, "about 10% of this money will go unused, meaning free money for Starbucks."

While these are all interesting talking points, some viewers held doubt that this was what was actually going on with Starbucks. Are they just an average coffee company, or is there more than just coffee being moved around there?

The TikTok claims are debatable

Some viewers seem to believe that Starbucks isn't actually a secret bank nor a money laundering scheme, but instead a normal coffee chain that just happens to have a good app system. Some comments even stated that since Starbucks isn't able to give withdrawals nor follow the rules of a normal bank, then it's nothing like a bank at all.

"That's literally the same thing as a gift card," said one follower. "And more gift cards get unused than money on the Starbucks app," they continued. "Have common sense, people."

"The unused portion — [it] isn't completely true that it's free money to Starbucks," another viewer said in response. "In most states it is considered unclaimed property and seized by the govt." To which another said, "So they aren't a bank ... they're just good at selling gift cards."

While the theory that Starbucks is a secret bank may not be totally solid, TikToker @IndexVenture isn't wrong that Starbucks has more money than some banks — at least, for a time. A 2016 report from MarketWatch showed that Starbucks had $1.2 billion in balances alone, outranking banks like Discover or California Republic Banking. The Motley Fool also discussed this theory. They noted that, while the brand has key features like customer loyalty and digital growth, Starbucks would have to become a heavily regulated entity rather than a private coffee chain to exist as a bank, alongside the issues of having solid cash on hand to deal with transactions.