The prepaid card marketer FSV Payment Systems Inc. is offering people savings accounts tied to its cards.
The Houston company said last week that three of its issuing bank partners are providing accounts linked to its PaycheckPlus payroll cards and its general-purpose reloadable cards.
Observers say that unbanked consumers who use prepaid cards are showing increasing interest in banking products tied to their cards.
Jonathan Palmer, FSV's president and chief executive, said the savings accounts are aimed at unbanked and underbanked consumers who do not have a convenient way to put away money to meet their near- and long-term goals.
The unbanked and underbanked often use money orders as a savings mechanism, Palmer said. "They'll buy a money order every payday, put it away, and that's their savings account," he said, and these accounts could be a more convenient option.
Cardholders need as little as $10 to open a savings account online or by phone, and they can arrange to have a portion of every paycheck deposited automatically into their savings account.
There are no fees for the accounts and the deposits are guaranteed by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.
He said the accounts offer interest rates that are comparable to those of traditional savings accounts.
One of the issuers is Metropolitan National Bank of New York; Palmer would not name the others.
Palmer said he expects usage of the savings accounts to be low at first, but hopes that more people will sign up as early users start to tout the benefits of the accounts to others.
He said that bringing the unbanked and underbanked population into the financial system is an important goal of prepaid card companies.
Palmer and executives from other financial companies met this month in Washington to discuss ways that financial services can be delivered "to people who don't have a lot of money and do it conveniently, efficiently, securely, and give them real value and do it at a cost that makes it feasible for financial services providers," he said.
Other prepaid card companies have also added various types of banking products to their card products.
NetSpend Corp. introduced a prepaid card savings plan in 2005. In October of last year, the Austin company said that customers had deposited more than $31 million into their savings accounts between January and August of last year.
According to a report released this year by the Center for Financial Services Innovation, an affiliate of ShoreBank Corp. of Chicago, prepaid card companies said that savings accounts are one of the top features they are considering adding to their products, along with rewards programs and features that can help cardholders build credit.
Palmer said that FSV has also developed a cashback rewards program for cardholders, which it expects to announce within 30 days.
NetSpend spokesman Brad Russell said that some prepaid card companies might be reluctant to add savings accounts because they must find a bank partner that will agree to handle cardholders' deposits.
Palmer said other prepaid companies might not be interested in following suit because cardholders have not been clamoring for such features.
"Maybe there has just been a sense that a savings account feature was a lower priority for the cardholder," he said.
But Rachel Schneider, the innovation director at CFSI, said that saving accounts can give unbanked and underbanked consumers "the sense that they are participating in a banking relationship," and help them find better ways to manage their money.
"A prepaid card savings account feature is a convenient, reliable way for a certain portion of the population to save money," she said.
Credit-building features could be the next significant add-on for prepaid card companies, Schneider said.
UniRush LLC of Cincinnati last year added an option to its RushCard and Baby Phat Card products that enables cardholders to establish credit histories based on their ability to show they can pay bills on time.
Pay Rent Build Credit Inc., an alternative credit-scoring company in Annapolis, Md., compiles payment histories for cardholders who choose to use UniRush's credit-reporting service.
The knock against that feature is that the historica data does not get sent to the three major credit-reporting bureaus: Equifax Inc., Experian PLC and TransUnion LLC. Some lenders are unwilling to evaluate potential borrowers based only on a PRBC credit history.
Schneider said that he expects that future credit-building features linked to prepaid cards will be able to report cardholders' payment histories to the three maind bureaus.
Russell said consumers have asked for such features and NetSpend is currently exploring the concept.