Posted January 27, 2014 by Chris Warren in News

Banks Sponsor Prepaid Debit Cards

The recent announcement about wireless carrier T-Mobile’s new prepaid debit card has highlighted the popularity of this still relatively new financial product among banks. According to a recent article in The Washington Post, banks are increasingly excited about the prospect of teaming up with retailers like T-Mobile to offer prepaid debit cards.

The reason? Money, of course. “The cards are attractive because they are exempt from an amendment in Dodd-Frank that restricts the amount banks can earn from debit and credit card fees,” writes Post reporter, Danielle Douglas. It’s also a matter of simple popularity. Indeed, according to data compiled by the trade journal Nilson Report consumers made nearly 3 billion prepaid Visa and MasterCard transactions totaling almost $100 billion in 2012, a spike of 19 percent from the year before. With numbers like these, readers may continue to see more headlines like “Banks Sponsor Prepaid Debit Cards” over the next few years.

But there’s also a symbiosis at work here. As Douglas explains in her article, prepaid cards issued by the likes of T-Mobile are only possible when they have a bank to handle card transactions and hold deposits – which they’re more than happy to do for a cut of the fee income. In the case of T-Mobile, Bancorp Bank is the sponsor of the wireless carrier’s new Visa prepaid debit card. In fact, Nilson Report estimates that Bancorp sponsors 25 percent of all prepaid cards.

Still, as attractive as it may be, not all banks are cut out to do it. Banks have to be sophisticated enough to handle millions of transactions and well equipped to respond to government regulation. “There’s great demand for bank sponsors,” Karen Garrett of Stinson Leonard Street told The Washington Post. “But it’s not something to be done without an enormous investment into the infrastructure to manage the whole thing.”

Nevertheless, it’s likely that more revenue-seeking banks will pursue sponsorship of prepaid debit cards in the future. A growth industry like prepaid debit cards is just too enticing to skip. “Payment transactions have been an area that banks have identified as a potential revenue stream,” analyst Greg McBride told the Post. “They understand the risks.”




Chris Warren