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Spent: Looking for Change…

  • By Timothy Roberts
  • Friday, July 11, 2014

Break out your smartfood popcorn, AMEX is attempting to drive change in a growing problem of financial inclusion through an awareness and education video series, starting with their first full feature Spent: Looking for Change.

Today in the United States the cost of getting ahead has elevated significantly over the past several years. The US financial system leaves one in four households under-served, and unable to reach their potential leaving many households able to just “get by”.

Many citizens, 40% of Americans, do not have access to modern day banking, making it not only more difficult to cash their pay check, pay bills, or take out loans, but also making the entire financial process very expensive. Banks yield a lot of power; have the ability to “boot” someone out of their system if fees pile up, forcing people to resort to other methods, such as payday loans, to service their financial needs to convert their pay to cash; to convert the cash to electronic funds; to then paying usary fees to use the electronic funds to pay for goods and services. The underserved using this approach will spend on average, the same percent of fees and interest that a typical family will spend on groceries.

Unfortunately for many American households, this financial struggle is a daily reality.

Of interest from Spent, is the rise of payday lending houses, and the closures of bank branches. I wonder if the rise of payday lending houses coincides with the shrinking number of banks in the USA; from 12,000 banks in 1990 residing to a current 7,000. It is coincidental that the number of Americans unbanked and under-served equates to the decline of commercial banks: 40%!

In Canada where there are five highly regulated major banks; Approximately 13% of Canadians have no bank account or have an account with a zero balance. Is there a relationship between financial inclusion and number of banks worth exploring? Is less more vs. more serving less?

I agree with AMEX, we have to start somewhere and education of financial services is the starting point. However, how do we educate and then bank when a bank branch is non-existent?