Occupy Visa? Occupy Wall Street May Be Getting a Credit Card

GettyBy Christopher Zara

Working slogan: “Don’t leave Zuccotti Park without it.”

A fledgling financial-services group that grew out of the Occupy Wall Street movement is looking to launch a debit card aimed at people who want to forgo conventional banks. The group, Occupy Money Cooperative, is currently seeking donations on its website, where it hopes to raise $900,000 to launch a prepaid, low-fee, FDIC-insured debit card that it will offer free to co-op members. As of Wednesday afternoon, the group had raised only $5,389, but the campaign has picked up steam since Monday, when an article about the proposed card appeared in The New York Times.

The co-op was co-founded by Carne Ross, a former British diplomat turned Occupy advocate, who told the Times that the Occupy-branded debit card is a nonprofit venture, with sustainability being the only goal. The card, once launched, will come with no upfront costs, but will charge small fees for services like ATM withdrawals and balance inquiries, according to the Times.

To make the card widely available, the co-op is teaming up with Visa Inc. (V), which will receive a share of transaction revenue. And if you think that sounds like a Faustian bargain for a movement born out of frustration with the financial industry, you’re not alone. The Visa-Occupy relationship has received criticism from no shortage of OWS faithful who say the multinational financial corporation violates the very spirit of Occupy.

Countering that criticism during a Reddit AMA last month, Ross said the relationship with Visa was the only way to ensure that the card would be widely accepted by businesses and retailers. “Visa is not Occupy,” he wrote. “But if you want a national payments network, there’s no choice. Maybe one day we can replace it!”

Like anything associated with the Occupy movement, the debit card is being met with skepticism and even hostility — par for the course for the leaderless movement, in which even staunch supporters have become frustrated by a prolonged lack of direction.

In a blog post on Tuesday, Felix Salmon, a financial reporter for Reuters, voiced serious doubt that the Occupy card would ever get past the planning stage. Salmon writes that Ross had initially hoped the card would be available by September 2012, the first anniversary of the original Occupy protests in Zuccotti Park. He goes on to say that the proposed card does not appear to offer anything that other low-cost prepaid debit cards aren’t already offering:

“The Occupy Card, then, is too little, too late: it’s an idea which might have been welcome two years ago, when Occupy was at its peak, but which at this point looks rather old-fashioned compared to some of the best new products on the market. And of course on top of that it has the biggest weakness of all, which is that it doesn’t actually exist.”

On Twitter, some OWS hard-liners have been even harsher:

@OccupyMoneyCoop This is not the Occupy that I signed up for and it’s not the movement that sets hearts ablaze. Go kill yourself.

– noah adams (@noahadams) October 2, 2013

However, others have been more welcoming of the possibility of Occupy-branded plastic, including Gawker’s Hamilton Nolan, who wrote that “taking over some of Wall Street’s business could be the most useful thing Occupy Wall Street could do.”

A rendering of the proposed card, which sadly doesn’t include the Guy Fawkes mask, can be seen on the group’s website.

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