In recent weeks, coverage of prepaid debit cards launched by Suze Orman and Lil Wayne has repeatedly portrayed me as a “celebrity endorser.” Some of these stories have gone so far as to depict my RushCard business in the same light as the ill-fated Kardasian Kard. The truth is, eight years ago I invested millions of dollars, putting my reputation on the line to found UniRush LLC.
With the issuance of the first RushCard, I created the first prepaid debit card account, requiring no linkages whatsoever to a consumer checking account. Today, millions of Americans manage their financial lives with the assistance of prepaid debit cards issued by UniRush and our competitors.
I created this industry because my customers had been left behind by the banking industry. These hard-working Americans had been left to fend for themselves, managing their lives largely with cash in an increasingly cashless society, accessing their money from people sitting behind bulletproof glass windows at check-cashing stores charging high fees. The process was downright awful. It required long waits in line, oftentimes with children in tow, just for the privilege of cashing a check or paying one’s bills. Prepaid debit cards put our customers back into the American mainstream. The cards eliminated the indignity and dangers of carrying cash while providing a smarter, carefully considered alternative to banks and check cashers.
What did I do to earn the title of “celebrity endorser?” Richard Branson endlessly and lovingly promotes his airline’s cell phones, cable channels and spaceships, as he once did his retail and music empires. Is he a “celebrity endorser?”
How about Mark Zuckerberg, the “celebrity endorser” of Facebook? Success certainly breeds celebrity, as it has for Branson and Zuckerberg. Yet, neither of these astute businessmen is categorized as a celebrity endorser. I submit this is because each is an innovator and a creator. Each took risks and endured the pitfalls that trailblazers brazenly face; just as I did when I created an industry with an uncertain business model and no path to earning a reasonable return.
Like these respected businessmen, I manage my business for the benefit of my customers, never veering from my company’s long-range mission. At RushCard the mission, or more appropriately the “big hairy audacious goal,” is to help my customers achieve their financial well-being with a powerful range of tools and services offered at a fair price.
I demand constant improvements in every aspect of my company, investing millions each year in innovative new benefits and features. Just like Branson and Zuckerberg, I created products that garner strong customer loyalty and evoke genuine emotion. RushCard was the first prepaid card to offer features such as budgeting and saving tools, mobile phone apps, and the choice of a “pay as you go” or monthly fee plan. RushCard was also among the first to offer card-to-card transfers – an economical alternative to standard money transfer products.
Some of these features are now industry standards. I’m proud that RushCard spent the time, money and energy to provide these features to our customers first. Since when do celebrity endorsers do this?
I welcome new entrants into an industry which – like every one of my businesses -no one took seriously when I got started. I celebrate their belief in a real alternative to banks. I do so even though they lack the years of experience, knowledge of customers’ financial preferences and spending habits, as well as branding insights, needed to be laser-focused on customer needs. When they get there, I will have already taken RushCard’s innovation to the next level.
But please don’t call me a “celebrity endorser.”
Russell Simmons is chairman of Rush Communications