Prepaid Debit Plays Bigger Role in Earnings

Prepaid debit was, of course, a central earnings theme for two U.S. financial services companies that recently went public – Green Dot Corp. (NASDAQ: GDOT) and Netspend Corporation (NASDAQ: NTSP). Other, more established financial services providers also featured a common theme in their earnings: prepaid debit cards are increasingly important to many businesses, including Visa (NYSE:V), MasterCard (NYSE: MA), Western Union (NYSE: WU) and American Express (NYSE: AXP).

The topic of prepaid debit cards and their importance to these large financial services companies continues to come up during earnings season. Visa, MasterCard, and Western Union discussed prepaid debit at length in their earnings conference calls. Below are some details from those conference calls.

MasterCard: Reloadable Cards are Most Attractive

MasterCard Incorporated kicked off the earnings season with a conference call led by Ajay Banga, MasterCards’s CEO. In addition to discussing MasterCard’s acquisition of Travelex (which is a big prepaid play), Mr. Banga discussed some of the major prepaid deals they landed in the quarter, including “corporate and consumer reloadable prepaid products in the United States, Mexico, Germany, Italy, Switzerland” and “public sector programs in the U.K. and United States with the State of Illinois Department of Labor delivering unemployment, other benefits and so on, on a prepaid MasterCard.”

Mr. Banga, responding to a question about Western Union and prepaid, gave some insight into his view of prepaid, stating that he has “a very low interest in single use prepaid cards because the P&L impact of those is less than attractive. You just don’t get to amortize the acquisition cost of our multiple users of that card.” Mr. Banga mentioned that gift cards have a very low load amount as compared to multiple purpose reloadable cards such as benefits cards. He went on, stating that he interested in benefits, payroll and other general purpose reloadable cards, and “that’s where we are putting our energy”. He noted that the “biggest market right now is in the U.S.”

Visa: We Will Continue to Invest in Prepaid

Joseph Saunders, CEO of Visa Incorporated, spent even more time during his earnings call discussing prepaid. Mr. Saunders is bullish on prepaid, stating “prepaid is an area where we will continue to invest and foster global growth”. He touted deals Visa landed in the quarter, including a partnership with Bank of America in which a “significant” prepaid disbursement card program was launched for the State of California Employment Development Department. A partnership with Chase was discussed in the State of New York which will allow adoptive parents to receive adoption subsidies through prepaid cards instead of receiving them by check.

International programs were also discussed, with Mr. Saunders stating that “more and more, we see prepaid making a case for itself in every pocket of the globe and particularly, in emerging markets. This is true from Botswana and Georgia, two countries that recently partnered with Visa to introduce their first prepaid product solutions to India and Pakistan, which are further along the payments development curve.” Other international programs in India and Pakistan were also discussed.

Western Union: Prepaid Will Be 1% of Revenues in 2011

Hikmet Ersek, CEO of Western Union also spent a significant amount of time during the WU earnings call discussing prepaid, announcing that prepaid debit will account for 1% of Western Union’s revenue in 2011. Western Union plans on hitting that objective by doubling the number of Western Union prepaid debit cards issued, and by driving future growth via strategic initiatives such as electronic channels, prepaid and business to business payments, and through their core retail business. Western Union increased their cards issued in the U.S. to 890,000, with over $350 million loaded onto the cards in 2010.

American Express: Prepaid Is a Small Component of Our Total Business

American Express spent some time on prepaid, but its clear that prepaid is less important to American Express. Daniel Henry noted that “we have had very good growth in prepaid, although prepaid is a relatively small component of our total business.” They expect to expand in prepaid, and made a strategic hire to help with the hiring of Dan Schulman who “has a significant amount of experience in prepaid”.

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