> Posted by Ariel Schwartz, Senior Editor, Co.Exist

The following post was originally published on Fast Company’s Co.Exist.


The challenge was simple, or so it seemed: Pay my bills and complete a handful of money-related errands before my work shift began at noon. It was harder than I ever could have imagined.

In reality, I wasn’t handling my own finances; I was participating in a simulation of what it’s like to be one of the underbanked—that is, to be one of the 7.7 percent of Americans with limited access to traditional banking services. The Financial Solutions Lab, a spin-off of the Center for Financial Services Innovation (CFSI), put on the simulation for a group of entrepreneurs, nonprofit employees, and banking executives so that they could come up with new product ideas for addressing the challenges of cash flow management.

During the two-hour simulation, the group was split up into teams and given a series of tasks to complete. These included buying a general purpose re-loadable card (GPR) and loading it up with cash, cashing a payroll check and a personal check, completing a money transfer and then picking up a money transfer card from another team, and paying the balance of a monthly rent bill.

My team—Paul Breloff, managing director of the Accion Venture Lab, Ethan Bloch, the CEO of digit, and myself—walked around San Francisco’s Mission District, popping into the payday loan and cash advance outfits, with names like Ace Cash Express and Money Mart, that I had passed so many times before without even a second glance.

Our first problem came at Ria’s, a storefront where we planned to cash our checks and load up our GPR card. We ended up waiting for nearly half an hour while the store decided it couldn’t cash one of the checks because we couldn’t immediately get verification from the sender that it was legitimate.

Ace Cash was willing to take care of the checks and GPR quickly, but for a significantly higher fee. Still, Ace Cash refused to let us pay the $10 balance from our monthly rent bill. The transaction was “declined for unspecified reasons.”

To read the rest of this post, visit Co.Exist.

Image credit: Paul Sableman

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