While Justin Bieber croons "I'll be your platinum, I'll be your silver, I'll be your gold," on stage, off stage he is the latest celebrity to endorse plastic. But there's something different about Bieber's pitch for prepaid cards.
Celebrities and prepaid cards are sometimes a toxic mix. The biggest bomb in the prepaid industry was the Kardashian Kard, which was so vilified for its pricing that it failed within the same month it launched. Even finance guru Suze Orman wasn't immune to criticism over prepaid-card fees — so why would the SpendSmart card Bieber supports be any different?
"The Kardashian Kard epitomized a program that entered the market with sheer avarice," says Jim Wells, president at Wellspring Consulting International. "They wanted to feed their greed before they served the cardholders' needs."
SpendSmart Payments Co., formerly BillMyParents Inc., aims to send a different message. SpendSmart works hard to associate the three-year-old prepaid product with financial education. Prior to working with Bieber, it signed on celebrities such as skateboarder Rob Dyrdek to promote financial responsibility.
"By combining our prepaid card with Justin's vast reach and financial educational materials, we can empower countless families with teens to think about responsible spending in a new and better way," says Bill Hernandez, president of SpendSmart Payments Co.
"In addition to his many musical talents, Justin Bieber is a smart, motivated and socially conscious artist who actively works to have a positive social influence on his tens of millions of fans worldwide," he says.
The SpendSmart prepaid card charges consumers $3.95. This is almost a dollar more than the fee Suze Orman charges for "The Approved Card."
Hernandez says the SpendSmart card provides teens and their parents access to several features that offset the cost, including online educational resources. The card can also provide real-time text alerts when it is being used.
"With the Justin Bieber card, anything that can be done to encourage youngsters to be fiscally responsible is a good thing," Wells says, though he questions whether Bieber is the best person to sing its praises. "I haven't seen anything attached to his name to prove he's fiscally responsible himself."
Other celebrities involved in prepaid card marketing include Russell Simmons, Alex Rodriguez and Magic Johnson. Many of these cards don't seem to garner much respect and haven't gained traction over the years — Magic Johnson's card is actually his second attempt to promote a prepaid product.
Celebrity endorsement "has become a pretty common practice," says Madeline Aufseeser, a senior analyst at the Aite Group. "Celebrity endorsement hopefully helps [companies] get the word out about the product."
Prepaid cards are often perceived as being more expensive than bank accounts, but the underbanked who favor prepaid cards prefer them to the overdraft fees and similar charges from banks, which can often catch them by surprise.
Lately, picking a prepaid card doesn't always mean paying outrageous fees. "There's a lot of competition among pricing; for people looking for a good card to put in their wallet with low fees there's plenty of options in the market," Aufseeser says.
Though Orman's product was designed around a message of financial responsibility, Wells criticizes it for carrying a monthly fee and lacking an attached savings account.
"The primary reason for a fee, other than generating extra revenue from cardholders, is to gobble up abandoned funds," he says. Instead of charging monthly fees, prepaid companies should live off the interchange produced by consumers using the product, he says.