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Innovators’ Spotlight: SOLE Financial

Cardholder education is key for payroll card success

By Adam Perrotta, Associate Editor

Many prepaid companies offer cardholder education elements as part of their platforms, but for Portland, Ore.-based payroll card provider SOLE Financial, ensuring cardholders know how to use their cards wisely and avoid fees isn’t just good PR—it’s good business.

Founded in 2004 as TFG Card Solutions, the company experimented with GPR and campus cards before ultimately settling on payroll cards. Since then, the firm (which rebranded as SOLE Financial in 2015) has distributed thousands of its Visa-branded SOLE Paycards, issued by The Bancorp Bank and Axiom Bank.

Education Emphasis 

From the beginning, SOLE knew cardholder outreach was key, not only for customer retention rates, but also to differentiate the company amid fierce competition.

Getting to Know SOLE Financial

Marketplace Names: SOLE Financial, SOLE Paycard

Location: Portland, Ore.

Open for business: 2004   

Line of Business: Visa-branded payroll card and mobile app powered by Digiliti Money

Business Philosophy: We’re firm believers that providing a paper check to an unbanked employee should be exposed for the high-cost, low-secure, dead-end behavior that banked folks wouldn’t stand for.

Founders: Rick Holt, Jeremy Inman, Steve Klaus, Tom Secor

Ownership: Privately held

Business Model: No cost to corporate clients. Revenue earned from card usage.

Something You Might Not Expect: That a financial group selling direct deposit to have as much fun as we do. Our team of more than 60 has a blast helping our cardholders, and we love doing that together—hence our informal nickname, “the SOLE-mates.”

“We serve the underserved marketplace by emphasizing best uses,” notes SOLE President Tom Secor. “Education of our cardholders is key, so we’re relentless at sharing best practices for long-term use, like using the card for all direct deposits, using it for free at all points of sale, downloading the free app, etc.”

That educational imperative to promote financially literacy permeates each stage of a cardholder’s relationship with SOLE. Every new cardholder receives emails with in-depth overviews of different card features, while targeted social media communication includes tips and videos about best card usage practices. Meanwhile, the company provides proactive safeguards such as disabling pay-at-the-pump authorization at gas stations—instead requiring users to pay inside to avoid unnecessary holds being placed on accounts. And when cardholders repeatedly incur avoidable costs, such as ATM fees, SOLE reaches out to them to reinforce the alternatives.

Full-Function, Few Fees

While education is important, SOLE knows functionality is the real key to driving card usage over the long term. To that end, the company’s payroll card can be used to make online and in-store purchases wherever Visa is accepted. And with mobile increasingly the preferred channel for many in the workforce—especially millennials—SOLE is no slouch in that department either. Its free mobile app—powered by Digiliti Money Inc.(formerly Cachet Financial Solutions)—enables cardholder to track spending, make P2P transfers to other SOLE cardholders and manage direct deposits of paychecks from multiple employers, as well as tax refunds and government benefits.

The app also uses location-based technology to pinpoint nearby reload locations and ATMs, along with back-end analytics capabilities that enable employers to track cardholder behavior and send relevant marketing messages to keep their employees engaged. All of this comes at minimal cost to the cardholder—an important point as lawmakers and regulators at the federal and state level have taken aim at payroll card fees in recent years.

SOLE’s education-centric approach has helped the company sign corporate clients from across a range of industries, including quick service restaurants, assisted living facilities and manufacturing, among others. Collectively, those clients—and their employees—have saved hundreds of thousands of dollars per year through their partnerships with SOLE, the company says.

Looking ahead, Secor says the company sees plenty of room for growth as more and more employers—and their employees—recognize the cost saving, financial inclusion and other benefits of payroll cards. Secor says the company is primed to meet that rising demand in the month and years ahead. “Every employee should be on direct deposit, and we can effectively bridge the gap to those employees who are unbanked,” he notes. “Empowering all employees to take advantage of an awesome payroll service is a must.”

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