Prepaid debit cards have become wildly popular, both with financial institutions and with consumers. Recent studies have shown that use of prepaid cards jumped by 18% in 2011, and that people look upon them now more as a convenience and less as a financial vehicle used primarily by those with limited funds. Consumers like these cards so well that a report by Market Rates Insight notes that they are willing to pay a monthly fee just to have them -- $4.21 each month, on average. Nearly half of those responding said they would use these cards if their banks offered them.
Prepaid cards are a win for financial institutions
This is great news for banks and card issuers, which have been wearing out their thinking caps trying to come up with new revenue sources since Dodd-Frank put the squeeze on some of their favorite fee-generating activities. Even better, issuers are using these cards with underbanked customers to groom them for other, more traditional banking products such as checking accounts and credit cards.
Similarly, Regions Financial
Young people are usually unbanked as well, and they're also getting the come-hither treatment from the banking community. BB&T
The popularity of prepaid debit cards makes this method of drawing in new customers a no-brainer for banks. These cards are widely available, but banks should make an effort to offer them to their customers whenever possible. After all, people have demonstrated that they're willing to pay for the privilege of using them, so offering a small incentive to make sure consumers obtain cards from banks rather than other venues would be in the institutions' interests. The biggest benefit for the banks is the ability to screen would-be customers, increasing their creditworthiness for future banking transactions.
As banks start offering customers what they want, rather than what the banks think they should have, they may find that people become less estranged from the banking community. Prepaid debit cards represent a golden opportunity that banks can't afford to miss.
Many consumers who prefer prepaid debit cards also do most of their banking on mobile devices, a phenomenon that is taking over banking as we have always known it. Learn how this shift is quickly becoming wrapped up in The Next Trillion-Dollar Revolution by grabbing our free report.
Fool contributor Amanda Alix owns no shares in the companies mentioned above. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended creating a write covered strangle position in American Express. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.