Umbilical cord blood (UCB) is a graft source for patients with malignant or genetic diseases who can be cured by allogeneic hematopoietic cell transplantation (HCT), but who do not have an appropriately HLA-matched family or volunteer unrelated adult donor. Starting in the 1990s, unrelated UCB banks were established, accepting donations from term deliveries and storing UCB units for public use. An estimated 730 000 UCB units have been donated and stored to date and ~35 000 UCB transplants have been performed worldwide. Over the past 20 years, private and family banks have grown rapidly, storing ~4 million UCB units for a particular patient or family, usually charging an up-front and yearly storage fee; therefore, these banks are able to be financially sustainable without releasing UCB units. Private banks are not obligated to fulfill the same regulatory requirements of the public banks. The public banks have released ~30 times more UCB units for therapy. Some countries have transitioned to an integrated banking model, a hybrid of public and family banking. Today, pregnant women, their families, obstetrical providers and pediatricians are faced with multiple choices about the disposition of their newborn's cord blood. In this commentary, we review the progress of UCB banking technology; we also analyze the current data on pediatric and adult unrelated UCB, including the recent expansion of interest in transplantation for hemoglobinopathies, and discuss emerging studies on the use of autologous UCB for neurologic diseases and regenerative medicine. We will review worldwide approaches to UCB banking, ethical considerations, criteria for public and family banking, integrated banking ideas and future strategies for UCB banking.