Is the age of the brick-and-mortar bank branch over? With the advent of the smart phone, it looks like it might just be. One of the startups looking to help power the "branchless banking revolution" is Los Angeles-based Card.com. The startup--which offers up a wide range of branded, Visa cards--is one of a growing number of finance related technology startups in Southern California. We spoke with CEO and founder Ben Katz about the company's prepaid debit cards and mobile apps (featuring such brands as The Walking Dead, The Three Stooges, Star Trek, and Garfield), and more..
What is Card.com?
Ben Katz: We are trying to provide a fair, fashionable, and fun alternative to branch banking. We think the future of payments is in the palm of someone's hand, in the form of their mobile phone. We provide Visa cards and MasterCard with prepaid accounts, which are FDIC insured, so that people can get their paychecks and spent them. What makes this awesome, is that not only are our apps awesome, and our cards awesome, we partner with awesome brands like The Walking Dead, Star Trek, the National Autism Association, and others to let users express themselves through their cards.
There seem to be a lot of prepaid debit cards out there now. How are you different?
Ben Katz: Our biggest differentiator, is that we focus on the mobile phone experience. We believe that, right now, half of all the time people spend on the Internet is now on their mobile phone. We gear all our marketing and all of our product design to the mobile experience. We also are very differentiated because we let you get the coolest art on the card.
How difficult was it to arrange all those deals with those brands, and how did you manage to do that?
Ben Katz: We work with hundreds of brands at this time, including a lot of major studios, like Fox, CBS, and also publishers like Hearst. I have a background working with many of those same companies, because before this I had started a company called Cover. Cover is the largest seller of Android and iPhone cases with brands on the back. As a result, a lot of those brand partners already knew me, and had seem be build that business from scratch, and they're now giving us a shot at doing that here.
Who is the ideal market for your cards?
Ben Katz: Our customer is basically anyone who trusts their smart phone enough to bank in the cloud. What that means, is that the majority of our customers range from 25 to 55 years old. But, it's not skewed towards any one gender. It's just skewed to people who use mobile phone actively. Almost all of our customers interact with us through their phone screen.
You have some background in the prepaid card market, don't you?
Ben Katz: I spent a year at Green Dot as senior director. I'm sure you know Green Dot--they are ht largest issuers of Visa Debit cards, which they issue on behalf of brands like Walmart, CVS, Kmart, as well as their own brands. While I was there, I focused on technology partnerships for the Green Dot network. That was basically, my introduction to the branchless banking revolution.
Tells us more about this branchless banking revolution?
Ben Katz: At the end of the day, it has everything to do with the smartphone and particularly, with Android. You and me have an easy time with banks. Banks like us a lot, and we're not so painful to deal with. That's because they like to have lots of money deposited by us. But, for the average person, who doesn't have $10,000 of savings, they don't get treated very well by their bank. We believe that's not the bank's fault, it's just that they re not a good fit for market. However, of the smart phone, you can take a picture of a check and deposit it, you can find free ATMs with your smart phone, and use them even if they don't have a giant Chase logo. That's enough for most people to be fully serviced. Most people don't need a hedge fund attached to their bank account. Most people just need a secure place to get their paycheck, and an easy way to spend it, in a way that's fair and ideally fun and fashionable.
What are the brands you are seeing the most success with?
Ben Katz: The brands who seem to be popular are as expected, the brands with the most passionate, online fan base. The Walking Dead has almost 10 million or maybe more Facebook likes. Those fans are really invested in that show. They watched 30 to 40 hours of the show and buy the T-shirts and participate in zombie runs. We find that working with brands, a passionate fan base is key. There are some fan bases you wouldn't expect---you might not expect that the estate of some people who had been dead 50 years would have such a following, but you'd be wrong. There's amazing passion and allure around people like a James Dean, and people still at James Dean fan clubs, fan blogs and people who love him.
So, for example, how would you get a Walking Dead card?
Ben Katz: They go to Card.com/walking-dead, or go to Card.com and search for Walking Dead. Or you can just go Google "walking dead Visa card" which might be the easiest, honestly.
What's the next big thing for you guys?
Ben Katz: We're really excided about our user uploaded art. We are making it so you can have a picture of your daughter or your kitty cat on your card. If you look further out, you'll also see us starting to promote credit cards, as well.