SAN FRANCISCO — The prepaid card industry has a reputation problem — even within its own ranks.
High fees and bad marketing of prepaid cards have made them unattractive to many potential customers, a senior Western Union (WU) executive said on Wednesday evening. Western Union sells a general-purpose reloadable prepaid card issued by MetaBank (CASH).
"I'm a big critic of the industry," Stewart Stockdale, the remittance company's head of global consumer services, said in a speech Wednesday.
"You can't have a product where attrition is 30 or 40% … you just can't," he added.
In an interview after his speech, Stockdale called the much-criticized fees on prepaid cards "out of whack."
"I'm not suggesting that people don't have to have good returns. I'm in the business of making money too," he said.
But by charging "inordinate amounts of fees," some prepaid card providers have "set the industry back," Stockdale said, because potential customers stop using the cards once they find out how much they've been charged.
Western Union's prepaid fees include: $4.95 to have a remittance agent load funds onto its prepaid cards, $2.95 per month after four months of inactivity, and $1.00 to transfer funds onto the cards from a bank account, among other fees. The company does not charge active prepaid customers a monthly maintenance fee or a fee to have funds loaded onto the cards by direct deposit.
Stockdale was speaking at the Underbanked Financial Services Forum, an annual conference sponsored by the non-profit Center for Financial Services Innovation and American Banker. The three-day event in San Francisco focuses on financial services for the young, poor, immigrants or other people who do not have or do not regularly use bank accounts.
Many of those consumers rely heavily on non-bank financial companies, including Western Union, for services like check-cashing, remittances and short-term loans. New regulation of those products, especially from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, dominated many discussions at the conference.
The CFPB in January issued a final rule requiring increased disclosures for remittances, and Stockdale said Western Union was on track to comply with those rules by the deadline next year.
"We're in the process of still sizing the impact. Obviously we're working towards making sure that we're compliant by early next year," he said in the interview. "We already do a ton of regulation and a ton of disclosure, so what we're doing is taking all of our retail establishments in the United States and making sure that we comply with the intent and the spirit of the law."