General-purpose reloadable prepaid cards continue to evolve, exceeding the expectations of many, and in some ways are helping to shape the future of banking. According to the Pew Charitable Trusts' 2015 Banking on Prepaid survey, among prepaid cardholders who use their cards once a month, 27% do not have a checking account and are using their prepaid cards as a primary transaction account. Just like checking account customers who sign up for direct deposit, 43% of unbanked customers use direct deposit on their prepaid cards.
As the president of MetaBank, one of the nation's leading issuers of prepaid cards, I am disappointed by the shortsighted assumption that GPR prepaid cards are inferior financial products, or just a "starter product" for the unbanked. This is a misleading and inaccurate bias against a product that gives millions of consumers, both banked and unbanked, a wide variety of financial services and benefits.
Clearly, GPR prepaid cards provide an extremely valuable service to consumers who, for one reason or another, cannot or choose not to get a traditional bank account. The GPR prepaid card provides access to our financial system and offers the same kind of features, functionality and safety that traditional bank customers often take for granted. In my view, every person, regardless of income, deserves access to safe and secure financial products to manage their money.
Underserved or lower-income consumers should be provided with safe and affordable financial options that improve well-being and promote financial dignity, not merely left to their own devices or be forced into unsafe and expensive financial alternatives. They should be treated with respect and given clear and easily accessible options from which to choose the best one for their situation.
GPR prepaid cards today stand as relative equals and sometimes even exceed the value of old-fashioned checking accounts found at most banks. For example, GPR prepaid cards issued by MetaBank offer the same kind of consumer protections as traditional bank accounts including initial disclosures, FDIC insurance, error and dispute resolution under Regulation E, and comprehensive transaction and account information with 24/7 customer support.
Other features include bill payment, Internet banking, mobile apps, text alerts, mobile check deposit, ATM access, and person-to-person transfers, giving consumers everything they need to bank in an electronic world. Emerging technology is helping consumers limit fraud and control spending by allowing them to decide when and where their account can be accessed, whether by geography, day or time of the week, or even specific retailers. While the need to write paper checks continues to diminish, some GPR prepaid cards offer convenience checks for that rare occasion when it is necessary. These features are designed to meet the banking needs of 21st-century consumers without having to deal with stereotypical bankers and their old-world banks.
A 2013 Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. survey found that 8% of U.S. households were "unbanked," meaning they did not have a bank account and of those, 22% had used a general-purpose reloadable prepaid card in the past 12 months. Holders of these cards can sign up for direct deposit, mobile deposit capture, or add money at thousands of locations across the country. They always have access to your account information by phone, Internet, or mobile app. Their money is always safe if your card is ever lost or stolen. These are the kind of accounts everyone should want and anyone can get since they are available to everyone equally, regardless of their credit rating or the size of their paycheck.
At Meta our vision is to promote financial inclusion for all by treating everyone with respect and providing options to participate in a thriving financial system that doesn't discriminate according to the size of your checkbook. Our prepaid products serve many consumers that other banks overlook or simply ignore.
Brick-and-mortar bank branches are declining. More people have cellphones than bank accounts. Technology is freeing people from geographic restrictions and our way of banking needs to adapt. Prepaid cards appeal to a growing percentage of the population like millennials and other 21st-century consumers who want to manage their money without being tied down to bank locations.
Meta is striving to develop products that leverage technology, evolve with changing cultural preferences and benefit consumers on every rung of the economic ladder. While not all prepaid cards are created equal, they continue to evolve into first class financial products. Change takes time, but we continue working to make GPR prepaid cards does just that.
Brad Hanson is the president of MetaBank in Storm Lake, Iowa.