Direct Express® Debit Card Provides Cardholder Education to Keep Pace with Latest Innovations

By Shirley Hopkins, EFT Strategy Division

As with any prepaid debit card, determination of its usefulness lies with its user. Elementary. So it is with the Direct Express® Prepaid Debit Card MasterCard® (Direct Express® Debit Card). FMS and Comerica Bank, the card issuer, developed the Direct Express® Debit Card with features that make not owning one seem like a financial misstep.

Born out of the All-Electronic Treasury initiative announced in April 2010, the Direct Express® Debit Card was developed to provide an electronic payment solution for unbanked federal benefit recipients. While payments are still being added, the card is now available for individuals receiving Social Security and Supplemental Security Income, Department of Labor Black Lung benefits, Veterans compensation or pensions, Railroad Retirement Board annuities, and Office of Personnel Management federal retirement benefits. Since its inception four years ago, more than three million beneficiaries have signed up to access their benefits using the Direct Express® Debit Card. In total, more than $27 billion dollars have been loaded into card accounts for benefit recipient use.

Seeing the correlation between usefulness and necessity, FMS and Comerica Bank developed a card that is safe to use. Owning a Direct Express® card means the risk of lost or stolen checks is gone. Since access to funds is available by using a card, there is no need to carry large amounts of cash. Owning a card is convenient. Cardholders can make purchases and get cash anywhere Debit MasterCard® is accepted 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The Direct Express® Debit Card can be used to make purchases and get cash back at retail locations that display the MasterCard® acceptance mark, such as grocery stores, gas stations, restaurants, and convenience stores. And, cardholders can use the Direct Express® Debit Card online to pay bills and make Internet purchases.

Recent cardholder feedback received in a September 2011 survey shows that purchases and ATM withdrawals are the most frequent uses of the card. Ninety-five percent of cardholders say they are typically satisfied or very satisfied with the card. The obvious next step, then, is ensuring cardholders know of its attractive features, and how to use them.

Due to factors such as increasing interest and the increasing number of inquiries, and the rapid increase in cardholders, both FMS and Comerica Bank believe that ongoing education is necessary to ensure cardholders know how to take advantage of the card's features—that is, they know how to use the card to get the most out its features without incurring fees. Particularly, in cases when cardholders may not be comfortable using prepaid cards or plastic cards in general. Walt Henderson, director of FMS's EFT Strategy Division, explains it best this way, "The Direct Express® Debit Card education program continues to be important because it helps teach and remind cardholders of the features that many frequent users take for granted."

In June 2011, FMS and its Direct Express® stakeholders developed a plan to educate cardholders on how to use the card to maximize the cardholder's experience. We featured an educational video titled "Have You Heard?" on and YouTube. The video informed check recipients about the electronic funds transfer requirement, as well as how cardholders can use the card to make purchases, pay bills and get cash.

We also made several direct mailings to new enrollees in 2011 to increase cardholder education and knowledge of card features and proper usage. Using an analysis of questions asked during the enrollment process, the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas sent letters with educational information about card features and usage. In November 2011, MasterCard also mailed approximately 800,000 letters emphasizing card benefits and encouraging greater use of point-of-sale and bill payment.

Future educational efforts for 2012 include a video, developed by Comerica Bank and MasterCard. The video shows a savvy cardholder using the card smartly, at retail locations, such as the post office. Comerica Bank also developed a "What More Can I Do with It?" mailer for cardholders. Similar to the "Have You Heard?" video, the purpose of the mailer is to teach cardholders how to get more out of using the card. An additional feature, not included in the video, is the enhanced IVR (interactive voice response) feature that now allows cardholders to find out about pending deposits to the card.

Last year, Comerica and MasterCard entered into an agreement with PayPerks, a company which offers an educational rewards program that promotes adoption, retention, and the desirable use of prepaid cards. The rewards program, CardSmarts, is designed for low-to-middle income payment recipients. With CardSmarts, cardholders can earn points through completion of an online educational program and through card usage. More current educational methods include collaboration with PayPerks, as well as work with social media.

Because we learned in the September 2011 survey that one-third of cardholders use the Internet daily, the Direct Express® Debit Card now has a page at the online social networking service, Twitter. The Twitter page is used to send educational tweets to remind, or educate, existing cardholders about card features and about the benefits of using the card. To date, the Direct Express® Debit Card Twitter page has 314 followers. A recent tweet reminded cardholders to, "Check your pending federal benefits before payment date. Contact Direct Express® customer service at 1-888-741-1115."

As interest in the card and the number of cardholders increase, cardholder education will continue to be necessary as well. Educational methods will have to keep pace with the times, as well as with the card's impending innovations.

   Last Updated:  July 26, 2012