MIAMI - About half of the customers who use JPMorgan Chase's Liquid prepaid card are financially underserved, and 30% of them have no other relationship with a bank, an executive said today.

JPMorgan Chase developed Liquid in part to get more business from lower-income customers. The New York bank introduced Liquid last year as a way to hold onto less-affluent people and to reduce its costs of serving them at the branch. The prepaid card has relatively few fees compared to its competitors, and functions much like a debit card tied to a traditional bank account.

Jonathan Wilk, the head of product marketing for Chase, said today that 30% of its Liquid customers "are never-banked or unbanked … when you add in the underbanked, it brings it up to 48%."

Wilk was speaking during a panel discussion at the Underbanked Financial Services Forum, an annual conference devoted to banking and technology for low-income, young, immigrants or other financially underserved people. (The conference is co-sponsored by SourceMedia's American Banker and the nonprofit Center for Financial Services Innovation. SourceMedia also publishes PaymentsSource.)

Wilk was joined on the panel by Alpesh Chokshi, the president of global payment options at American Express, which developed a similar prepaid card with Wal-Mart Stores. Like Liquid, their Bluebird card has relatively few fees and has helped bring prepaid products much more into the mainstream.

Bluebird customers are "a wide swath of the population," Chokshi said. "We're seeing it [used] as a bank alternative, a bank complement for the affluent, and small businesses use it" as a travel-and-entertainment or corporate card for their employees.

Chokshi added that American Express is planning to continue tweaking Bluebird and to develop more products for the same group of customers.

"It feels like the first half of the first inning for us," he said. "It's a different world; it's not the world we grew up in."

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