It’s expensive to be poor
Watch the documentary: Spent: Looking For Change
For one-third of the population in the US, the traditional financial system is not working. According to a 2011 FDIC National survey, 70 million Americans are “undeserved” by traditional financial services. They do not have access to traditional financial services, and instead rely on check cashers, pawn shops and payday lenders. This makes their basic financial needs more costly – in 2012 financially undeserved Americans spent a shocking $89 billion in fees and interest for using alternative financial services.
Spent: Looking for Change is a documentary that sheds a spotlight on these challenges and calls for solutions. The film was produced by American Express and is part of their initiative to build a more inclusive financial system.
Creating awareness: What it’s like to live paycheck-to-paycheck
The 39 minute documentary premiered in Los Angeles this June. Its credits include actor Tyler Perry as narrator and Oscar-winning filmmaker Davis Guggenheim is its executive producer.
It outlines how the current financial system doesn’t work for many individuals and families – people with no credit history, bad credit history, or debt.
People who stay within the system are forced to take out loans, pawn their belongings and live paycheck to paycheck. Those who decide to avoid fees may denounce the system and live on cash. But this move comes with its own pitfalls – it costs more and takes longer to do things which most of us take for granted and receive for free. Like cashing checks, paying bills and taking out loans. As money becomes more digital, it is becoming even harder for them to carry out what we consider everyday transactions.
The documentary makes it a point to highlight people are well-educated and hard-working, but found themselves in hardship because of financial mistakes made in their youth, the burden of student loans, or health emergencies in the family.
It closes with the message that these people are striving to overcome their challenges and asks viewers to contribute to a solution.
Inspiring change: Financial education and inclusive products
At SpentMovie.com, viewers are encouraged to spread awareness, advocate for prize-linked savings, donate to the cause and learn more about American Express’ long term efforts to create a more inclusive financial system.
Current American Express products include pre-paid card Servethat offers free cash re-loads, ATM withdrawals and online bill pay, and a low-fee checking and debit alternative Bluebird offered in partnership with Walmart.
Other initiatives include funding start ups that create financial inclusive solutions through American Express Ventures and creation of a financial innovation lab to bring together researchers, financial counsellors and technologists to test and validate solutions.
Through the documentary, American Express hopes to inspire more people to build a financial inclusive ecosystem. As Dan Schulman, group president of enterprise growth at American Express said:
“No one company can do this. It has to be a combination of public and private sectors all coming together to face one of the biggest issues that faces our country and countries around the world.”
This post is part of the People’s Insights monthly brief for June + July.