AmEx launches initiatives to promote financial inclusion, support start-ups

american expressAmerican Express announced on Monday several technology initiatives aimed at driving financial inclusion in the U.S.

The initiatives include a newly created program by American Express Ventures to fund start-up businesses that promote financial inclusion, as well as the establishment of a Financial Innovation Lab and sponsorship of a documentary that showcases how technology and innovation can address issues faced by nearly 70 million consumers who are excluded or underserved by the mainstream financial services industry.

“Technology is rapidly changing the face of financial services, yet tens of millions of Americans are relying on check cashers, pawn shops, money orders, and other outdated ways to manage and move their money,” Dan Schulman, the group president of enterprise growth at American Express, said. “It’s time for change. It’s not a silver bullet, but technology should be used to close the gap, not widen it. We want to help modernize traditional banking and advance the next generation of products. By supporting new technology as well as the work of researchers and promising startups, I believe we can bring more people from the margins to the mainstream.”

As part of its initiative to fund start-ups promoting financial inclusion, American Express will invest in early-stage businesses that use technology to increase and improve the financial options available to the financially underserved.

The newly created Financial Innovation Lab, which will launch in June, seeks to provide researchers focused on financial inclusion and other individuals who work with the underserved an opportunity to collaborate and develop solutions to address issues in savings and credit building.

Additionally, the documentary, “Spent: Looking for Change,” is set to premier in the summer. It follows a number of consumers as they work to navigate the financial system that can often inhibit the ability of some Americans to access, move and manage funds, as well as save for the future.

“Not having a bank account makes it incredibly difficult to manage your day to day finances, it often means you can’t establish credit, and therefore you can’t buy a home, finance a car, or take out a student loan,” Davis Guggenheim, the executive creative director and filmmaker behind “The Inconvenient Truth” and “Waiting for Superman,” said. “Multiply that by tens of millions of people and you can start to see how it’s possible that entire communities in the U.S. are systemically excluded from economic freedom that most of us take for granted. My hope is this film will shed light on this important issue and inspire everyone to work towards finding better solutions at a time when new technologies are opening up new possibilities to help fix this issue.”

The initiatives follow similar moves by American Express to improve financial inclusion in the U.S. The company unveiled the digital payment Serve platform in 2011, allowing consumers who rely on cash, check and debit cards to make person-to-person payments online and via mobile devices.

Additionally, the company partnered with Walmart in 2012 to launch the Bluebird prepaid alternative to debit and checking accounts that requires no minimum balance and carries no hidden fees.

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