November 17, 2005 (PRLEAP.COM) Business News
NEW YORK – Metbank is the first institution in the northeast to offer a Prepaid Visa Debit Card to check cashing clients of its CashZone subsidiary, “bringing them closer to mainstream banking,” according to Mark R. DeFazio, president and CEO of Metbank.

“Until now debit cards for the un-banked could only be used with a PIN [personal identification number] precluding cardholders from shopping where only signature-based cards are accepted,” DeFazio explained. He said the CashZone Prepaid Visa Debit Card is more like a bank issued debit card that can be used either with a PIN, at ATMs for example, or with a signature.

“This is a big step in bringing people who do not have traditional bank accounts closer to mainstream banking. We are optimistic that this service will achieve that goal.”

The new card, which is offered free of charge, will allow CashZone clients to do things they are not able to do with traditional PIN-based debit cards. They can make purchases on the Internet and shop at stores or dine at restaurants wherever Visa cards are accepted.

“Using this card will open a whole new world to our clients introducing tens of thousands of people who do not have bank accounts to the benefits of traditional banking services,” according to DeFazio.

Metbank and CashZone have a history of innovation in this sector, DeFazio pointed out. “Last year we introduced a new card-to-card feature to our standard Gold Debit Card. It allows users to acquire a secondary Debit Card linked to their primary card so they can easily transfer funds to a relative in another state or another country, for example,” he explained.

“The card-to-card option is a fantastic service, incredibly convenient, a great value and a much easier way to send money home compared to traditional money transfer methods. Users can simply shift funds from their primary cards to their secondary cards via the Internet, over the phone or by stopping by at any one of our financial centers,”

Metbank’s goal when it took the unusual move for a bank of establishing a check cashing subsidiary was to set new standards for an industry that has a less than positive identification. For example, its CashZone subsidiary seeks to create a bank-like atmosphere at its check cashing locations, which are called Financial Service Centers and where customers are referred to as clients.

“We made our Financial Service Centers safe, friendly and convenient and staffed them with individuals who treat their clients with respect and who know how to fulfill their financial services needs, providing them with a dignified alternative to the storefront experiences they were used to.” says DeFazio.

“We certainly cash checks at CashZone; it’s the subsidiary’s principal function. But CashZone centers are nothing like the kinds of check cashing establishments one is apt to envision,” he adds.

It is estimated that there are between 65 and 70 million Americans who do not have bank accounts and that there are some 6,000 check cashing stores located throughout the United States. Last year these establishments cashed more than 180 million checks with a face value in excess of $60 billion.

New York, where fees are capped by regulation at 1.55%, has the lowest check cashing charges in the nation. The great majority of the state’s 625 check cashing facilities are situated in the New York City metropolitan area and annually cash more than 38 million checks valued at over $14.5 billion.

CashZone has 15 full service Financial Service Centers – eleven in Manhattan and two each in the Bronx and Queens – serving some 90,000 clients.

Each of them is being offered the new CashZone Prepaid Visa Debit Card free of charge.

Last year, CashZone processed some 1.44 million checks with a total face value of $551 million—more than 4% of the total statewide industry volume.

Metropolitan National Bank of New York [Metbank], with assets in excess of $350 million, was founded in 1999. The bank and its subsidiary, Metbank Mortgage, provide a full range of personalized financial services for commercial and real estate enterprises, and individuals, in the New York metropolitan area. Another subsidiary, CashZone Check Cashing Corporation, operates 15 retail financial service centers in Manhattan, Queens and the Bronx, offering the underserved in the region a wide range of financial services—including an exclusive debit card product.