What Is a Zero Balance Account (ZBA)?

A zero balance account (ZBA) is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: a checking account in which a balance of zero is maintained. When funds are needed in the ZBA, the exact amount of money required is automatically transferred from a central or master account. Similarly, deposits are swept into the master account daily. Corporations sometimes use zero balance accounts to ensure that funds are readily available throughout different departments, to eliminate excess balances in separate accounts, and to maintain greater control over the disbursement of funds.

Key Takeaways

  • A zero balance account (ZBA) is an account in which a balance of zero is maintained by transferring funds to and from a master account.
  • ZBA accounts are not consumer products but are used by larger businesses.
  • An organization may have multiple zero balance subaccounts.

How Zero Balance Accounts Work

The master account provides a centralized place to manage an organization's funds. Whenever funds are required in the ZBA checking account to cover a charge or transaction, they are transferred from the master account in the exact amount required. There is no need for an employee to do this manually, as the process is fully automated.

By concentrating funds in the master account, more money is available for investments, rather than having small dollar amounts idle within a variety of subaccounts. Often, the master account has additional benefits, such as a higher interest rate on balances, compared to the subaccounts. The master account is not a checking account, but rather some other, more profitable type of bank account.

The ZBA's activity is limited to the processing of payments and is not used to maintain a running balance.

Using a ZBA to fund debit cards issued by the organization helps ensure that all of the activity on the cards is pre-approved. Since idle funds are not present within the ZBA, it is not possible to run a debit card transaction until funds are supplied to the account. This can help manage business expenses by limiting the risk of unapproved activities taking place.

The use of a ZBA as a spending control mechanism is especially helpful when managing incidental charges across a large organization. While operational charges are often easier to predict and fund, incidentals can be variable by nature. By limiting quick access to funds via debit cards, it is more likely that proper approval procedures will be followed prior to the completion of a purchase.

ZBA Special Considerations

An organization may have multiple zero balance accounts to improve budget management and make the process of allocating funds more efficient. This can include creating a separate ZBA for each department or function as a way to monitor daily, monthly, or yearly charges.

Other reasons for creating separate ZBAs might involve the financial management of particular short-term projects or those at particular risk for unexpected overages. The use of zero balance accounts helps to prevent excess charges without proper notification and approval.