Finally, Prepaid Rules are Finalized

plastic cardsThe CFPB’s Final Prepaid Card (Account) Rules are finally here after many years in the making. Rest assured there will be plenty of legal analysis and summaries provided on the 1,689 page rule the CFPB published October 5.

Here are a variety of reactions–from an industry news provider, leading prepaid provider, trade association and consumer group:

American Banker: “The bureau’s new rules are poised to disrupt, if not destroy, this industry and eliminate thousands of prepaid options from retail racks and online stores. Simultaneously, the rules will fundamentally transform the nature of the products themselves, making them function more like the heavily regulated banks they sought to replace.”

Green Dot‘s Steve Streit: “Green Dot embraces the new rule as recognition that the industry we started more than 15 years ago continues to serve an increasingly significant role in the everyday financial lives of a growing number of American families. We fully support the CFPB’s mission to ensure fairness, integrity and consumer protections for all participants in the financial system.”

NBPCA (Network Branded Prepaid Card Association): “While we are still analyzing the lengthy final rule to determine its full impact, it is already clear that the CFPB has dismissed many of our serious concerns and moved forward with a rule that will harm the very consumers it aims to protect. Instead of fostering financial innovation and inclusion, the CFPB’s rule will ultimately limit access to an essential mainstream consumer product that helps millions of Americans participate in the digital economy, affordably manage funds, and safely hold money.”

Pew Charitable Trusts: “By staying the course, the bureau has closed the door on practices that could have compromised consumers’ ability to use these products safely and stay out of debt.”


plastic cardsThere has been a lot of news around RushCard the past couple of weeks, as their cardholders–many who are living paycheck to paycheck–weren’t able to access their money due to a payments processing glitch. Obviously, this was a huge disaster, for the cardholders, RushCard, and perhaps not so good PR for the prepaid card industry.

The Detroit Free Press reported: “No doubt, many will use this crisis as a time to criticize the prepaid card industry and some of the risks associated with not opting for a traditional checking and savings account. We’re hearing about class action suits as well.”

It’s much easier to point the finger when systems fail. The focus here should be on whether systems may be improved so that such a catastrophe doesn’t hit the most vulnerable again. It’s also easy to dish out advice that everyone should have a personal relationship with a bank, have a checking account and savings account, and avoid relying on such products as prepaid, but this does not provide a viable solution for many people.

Consumer protections on prepaid card accounts (products) have long been in the making. It has been nearly a year since the CFPB had released its proposed rules for prepaid which would extend Reg E protections, including error resolution and fraud and loss protections.

Arguably, even Reg E’s error resolution and fraud and loss protections don’t take care of the entire problem when banking and financial systems fail–10 days to gain access to money to pay for food and medication isn’t going to cut it. I’m curious to see what answers come from the RushCard debacle. Will it be business as usual in that there continues to be a two-tiered system where one group has access to credit and the other does not? Will there be space for development of new products and services to bridge this gap?



CFPB’s Proposed Prepaid Rules & Reactions

plastic cardsAfter many years in the making, the CFPB announced its proposed rules on prepaid on November 13th.  The changes proposed would extend and make changes to provisions within Reg E and Reg Z, which the CFPB has jurisdiction.

The Proposed Rules do NOT:

Make FDIC insurance (individual or pass through) for prepaid compulsory (which arguably the CFPB cannot do).

Create fee caps or other fee changes (which Congress may only do).

The Proposed Rules would:

Require “Know Before You Owe” disclosures

Expand the definition of “prepaid” to include many forms of pre-funded electronic payments methods (not just plastic prepaid cards) but does not include health savings cards and transit cards.

Extend Reg E protections on error resolution and liability limits

Extend Reg Z protections on overdraft and linked credit products

Reactions to the effects of the Proposed Prepaid Rules:

Financial services rating company-Fitch Ratings: Fitch Ratings projects that the proposed regulations “may spur a consolidation of small, high-fee prepaid issuers who may be less transparent or uncompetitive, while boosting low-cost, more transparent providers…We believe the new consumer-friendly rules should further bolster growth in prepaid card usage…We do not believe the new rules pose a serious threat to major card issuing banks.”

Prepaid Card Industry Association-NBPCA: “While the NBPCA and its member companies need time to fully digest all of the components in the CFPB’s 870 page proposed rule, we welcome formalizing many standards that the industry has already embraced…NBPCA and its members stand ready to engage the Bureau in a collaborative process to enhance consumer protections without reducing convenient consumer access to prepaid cards.”

One major prepaid card issuer-Green Dot: “Green Dot believes that its business will not be materially impacted by the CFPB’s newly proposed rules. Furthermore, Green Dot fully supports the proposed rules that mandate “Regulation E” consumer protections for lost or stolen funds and disputed transactions, including the providing of provisional credits to consumers, and the CFPB’s proposed rulemaking dealing with the new framework for overdraft programs attached to prepaid cards.”

Christopher Brown, former general counsel of NetSpend, CFPB’s Prepaid Rules Put a Freeze on the Future-“the core definitions encompass any account loaded with consumer funds on a prepaid basis that can be accessed for payments, ATM withdrawals or peer-to-peer transactions. This definition, as the CFPB acknowledges, will apply to many mobile wallets and virtual currency products.”


There will be a 90-day comment period from the time the proposed rules appear in the Federal Register.

Bad News for Banks?

bankThere were two big announcements in September that seemingly added to the dour outlook for banks:  Apple Pay and Walmart’s Checking Accounts.  But, despite previous headlines about new financial service products and services putting an end to banks, the prospect that banks are to become obsolete will not come true–at least not in the near future.  The outlook instead seems that the bigger fish will continue to play a big part in everyone’s everyday financial doings.

For example, Apple Pay has teamed up with some big players: AmEx, BofA, Wells, Chase.  Bank of America and Wells Fargo can tout they are providing easier access for its customers, without having to reinvent the wheel themselves.  A win-win for big banks.

A prepaid card leader, Green Dot, made a huge splash last week with the announcement of another partnership with Walmart–checking accounts.  Walmart ditched their efforts to become bankers bank in 2007.  Instead, they brought on the Walmart Money Card and American Express’ Bluebird, offer the ability to quickly reload a variety of prepaid cards with Rapid Reload, check cashing, bill pay, money orders–giving their customers the ability to take care of all their banking needs in-store–without holding a bank charter themselves.  Another win for this big-box retailer, and a growing leader in “alternative” banking.







New Year, New Laws

Along with new goals, new resolutions, and feelings of renewal, the new year also brings the beginning of many new laws in California.

Here’s a link to a summary compiled by myself and Paul Soter on relevant new laws in California in the areas of consumer finance, payments and financial privacy.