H&R Block Inc. has begun testing mobile-banking services for its Emerald MasterCard, the company announced May 28.

 Cardholders can use the service to check balances and receive account-reload alerts on their mobile phones, the company says.

Based in Kansas City, Mo., H&R Block plans to conduct a test through the summer and then roll out the service to all its Emerald card customers during the next tax season, says Kevin Morrison, H&R Block assistant vice president of products.

 H&R Block decided to add the service because a large number of cardholders use the card all year long by reloading it with payroll deposits, Morrison says.

 "You'll see spikes of telephone calls the day before payday," he says.

 Now, cardholders can receive automatic text messages when funds are loaded onto the card, Morrison says.

 Cardholders also can send a text message requesting their balance at any time, he says.

 Other companies have used text messaging to help cardholders keep track of their funds.

 Based in Austin,Texas, NetSpend Corp. has offered cardholders the option of getting balances in e-mails sent to cell phones or e-mail accounts, according to an e-mail from Meghan Butler, a spokesperson for the company. Last year, the company began using two-way Short Message Service (SMS) text messaging to provide information to customers, Butler says.

 "NetSpend cardholders with SMS-enabled cell phones have no reason not to know their balance at any time," Butler, spokesperson for NetSpend, tells Prepaid Trends.

 Metavante Mobile Financial Services, a division of Milwaukee-based Metavante Corp., and Monitise Americas, a joint venture of Metavante and London-based Monitise plc, is providing the service to H&R Block.

 Monitise also uses SMS technology for the Emerald card service, says Lisa Stanton, Monitise Americas' CEO.

 "SMS text messaging is the most ubiquitous feature on cell phones today," Stanton says. "Virtually any cell phone on the market can send and receive text messaging."

 Monitise also offers software that consumers can download to a phone for bill payment, account transfers and work with contactless chips for payments, Stanton says. H&R Block does not offer those services.

 Metavante provides the processing for Emerald card transactions, and Monitise provides the connection between Metavante and the telecommunications companies, says John Focht, division president of Metavante's issuing solutions group.

 Monitize converts the text message into a format that works with Metavante's system, so Metavante can supply the account information, Focht says.

 Metavante and Monitize have begun discussions with other companies about offering the service to other prepaid cardholders but have not struck any deals they choose to make public, Focht says.

 By letting cardholders check their accounts with text messages, H&R Block can reduce costs at its call centers, and cardholders can get information more conveniently than by going to an ATM or making a phone call, he says.

 H&R Block distributed 2.6 million cards this tax season, the company says, up from 2 million cards issued last tax season, Morrison says.

 Customers use the cards to receive tax refunds and can sign up to have payroll checks deposited to the cards, connect them to lines of credit and savings accounts and link to funds-transfer services, the company says in a release.

 Adding text alerts makes keeping track of those options easier for everyone, Morrison says.

 "It will be a cost savings for us; it serves our client base better," Morrison says.

 H&R Block has 13,500 offices across the United States where consumers can sign up for an Emerald card, the company says.

 The company does not automatically enroll customers in the text-messaging service because cardholders typically must pay their wireless service provider for each text they receive, Morrison says.

 "We'll put it out there. Otherwise, we will not automatically turn it on," Morrison says.

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