A Card That Opens Doors

April 01, 2001

Who says there is nothing new under the sun? MemphisFirst Community Bank has partnered with Western Union and an organization known as Revelation America to offer a MasterCard-branded, prepaid debit card to provide basic financial services to individuals without bank accounts or credit cards..

The Western Union Cash Card offers customers an alternative to carrying cash or using check cashers and other high-fee services. Customers can withdraw money from automated teller machines, make travel reservations and buy items over the Internet and from other businesses that accept MasterCard.

MemphisFirst Community Bank, a state-chartered and minority-owned bank, is the primary issuer of the cards. Jim Sills, president and chief executive officer, sees the cards as a way to open the door to financial services for the unbanked. Even those with a bad credit history can get the debit cards.

With its extensive branch network, Western Union offers many locations where customers can add money to their cards. Paychecks also can be rolled into accounts through direct deposit. No fee is charged for loading the card. No interest or late fees are assessed, either. However, there is a $50 annual fee and a $5.50 monthly maintenance fee for using the card.

Revelation America is owned by the five largest African-American church denominations: the Progressive National Baptist Convention, the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, National Baptist Convention USA, National Baptist Convention of America and the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church.

Revelation America markets discounted products in connection with its member churches and puts its profits into mortgages for homebuyers in minority neighborhoods. Some of its products are marketed online. The company developed the new debit cards when it found that some potential customers could not make purchases online because they did not have credit or debit cards.

As an added bonus, a part of the initial $50 annual fee goes to the new cardholder's local congregation.

Bridges is a regular review of regional community and economic development issues. Views expressed are not necessarily those of the St. Louis Fed or Federal Reserve System.

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