These days the term “underbanked” does not necessarily refer to the very low-paid worker or the utterly disenfranchised. Traditional banking has gotten more expensive and laden with increasingly stringent credit rules. That means all sorts of consumers are considering prepaid financial services as an alternative.
So now, more than ever, these folks need prepaid services that provide the features of traditional banking services – and that means the ability to easily manage accounts, earn loyalty points, make electronic transfers, withdraw from ATMs and receive solid customer service.
That’s the sweet spot that Western Union is aiming for with its MoneyWise prepaid debit card. The card offers payroll direct deposit, ATM cash withdrawals, bank-to-card money transfer, the ability to transfer funds to the card using Western Union electronic cash transfer, online account management, no monthly maintenance fees, SMS account notifications, call-in customer service, and a so-called “inactivity fee” only after a full 12 months.
MoneyWise: Gold vs. Basic
Western Union offers two levels of MoneyWise, basic and gold. Both offer the same user features, but the Gold Card is linked to a loyalty program that offers reward points for every $2 sent in a Western Union money transfer. If you’re a frequent user of money wiring services, the loyalty program can be lucrative, offering rewards of free phone time and service fee reductions. Rewards are given in the following units: 30 points earn a $5 fee reduction and $5 in phone time, 75 points earn a $12 fee reduction and $12 in phone time, 150 points result in no fees and $30 in phone time and 500 points also results in no fees and $100 in phone time.
Where to Find MoneyWise: Pretty Simple
MoneyWise cards may be similar to banking services, but they’re a whole lot easier to sign up for than initiating a relationship with a bank.
The cards are available in a host of retail locations, including 7-11 stores and in most of the 50,000 Western Union retail locations. (Those locations are simple to find on the website, which allows users to enter in their zip code to receive their nearest Western Union shop.)
The cards are also available online, which is where I bought mine in a reasonably simple process. Once I got to the MoneyWise site, I clicked on a highly visible yellow tab that read “Get A Card,” and was swiftly taken to a page that explained the difference between MoneyWise and MoneyWise Gold cards.
I opted for the regular MoneyWise card, which lead me to a standard registration form that asked for my name, address and social security number. I appreciated the fact that the form guided me to a call center representative in case I didn’t have a social security number and told me what kinds of ID I could use instead. That’s especially important considering prepaid financial services are heavily used by immigrants to the US that don’t yet have papers.
Then a security box popped up, which led me through creating a password to protect my online account. I purposely entered a short password without a numeral to test whether the system would force me to choose a stronger password. Good news, it did. I was asked for a password of at least seven characters with at least one numeral and mixed-case alphabet.
Wait, No Immediate Card?
Then I was routed directly to my new profile page where I learned the various ways of loading funds, including in person at a Western Union retail outlet or other participating retailer, directly from a bank account, through direct payroll deposit or by Western Union money transfer from another party.
I found it strange that I wasn’t given the option to load funds using a credit or debit card. I was also a bit concerned that I had to enter my bank account information in order to buy and load a card online. Frankly, if it weren’t Western Union, I would have stopped the process right there. Who in their right mind gives away their bank account and routing numbers online?
But then two other problems arose. First Western Union told me I would be charged $1 for a bank transfer fee – not a huge amount. But then I received a message telling me it would take five to seven days for my bank account to be approved in the system.
That wasn’t the only time delay. I also learned that I wouldn’t receive my card in the mail for five to seven days. I was surprised since with some other prepaid cards, it’s possible to sign up for an account and begin using the number for online purchases until the permanent card arrives. In retail-store cards, you generally get a temporary card until the permanent arrives.
So, I called customer service. On the bright side, I was in contact with an actual agent in under 30 seconds. Once I explained the issue, he confirmed that I would have to wait. Note to consumers: there is no instant gratification with MoneyWise online.
Clear Disclosure, No Maintenance Fee, but Some Fees to Watch Out For
Fees are a big deal in prepaid these days. Consumers are tired of getting socked with hidden fees and merchants are tired of fielding the complaints. Knowing this, Western Union does a good job of clearly displaying a handful of the most common fees in a very clear box on the website. Western Union advertises no maintenance fees, but there are a host of feature-related fees. The good news is that they are basically comparable to competitors and banks. For example, there’s a $1.95 ATM withdrawal fee in addition to whatever the ATM provider charges. There is also an in-person reload fee of $4.95, which seems a bit high, but again is comparable and is offset by the less expensive $1 fee to reload by bank transfer.
Western Union is Thinking Ahead to Mobility
Prepaid financial services providers are plentiful these days, and one of the biggest differentiators is customer service and account management using mobile applications, including SMS alerts. Best practices call for providers to ask customer permission to send these texts during the purchasing process. Western Union is clearly thinking ahead because as soon as I clicked to register, I received a pop-up box asking me if it was ok to contact me with special offers via mobile SMS or email. Once customers agree to this, Western Union can also send promotional texts.
My Card Comes, I Buy With Ease
The ending of this story is a positive one. My card came in five days and my bank account was approved by that time. Transferring money from my account to my card was as simple as choosing an amount and clicking the load button. Within minutes I was able to shop, which I did at the corner store without a hitch. Other than waiting for the card, my engagement with MoneyWise was simple and likely just as the company planned.
Online Account Management is Simple
Once I had funds loaded on my card, I was happy to see that management of my account was easily viewable on the Western Union site under my account profile (very similar to an American Express account). I was able to view all account activity, remaining balance, who added money and when they did it.
The Final Sum
Western Union’s MoneyWise card works just as promised as long as online buyers are willing to wait a while for cards to arrive. The card is linked to a plethora of bank-like services that are simple to understand and just as simple to use.•
Western Union MoneyWise
Description: MoneyWise is a prepaid debit card offering banking-style features. These features include payroll direct deposit, ATM withdrawals, and online account management.
Price: No monthly maintenance fee, but there are fees associated with reloading funds and other features.
Target Audience: Anyone in need of a prepaid account with banking-style features. These cards could appeal to the underbanked, but also to others who want to move away from traditional banking relationships or are learning the ropes of managing an account.
Pros: This card is simple to sign up for and features are easy to use. The card is accepted everywhere MasterCard is accepted. Fees exist, but they’re pretty simple to understand.
Cons: Buying a card online means waiting five to seven days for arrival. Signing up to load funds directly from a bank account also means waiting five to seven days for approval. Fees are manageable, but most fees are linked to the banking-style features, which are what the company is promoting.
Editor’s Rating: 4 STARS