'Inconvenient Truth' Director Trains Lens on Americans Locked Out of Traditional Banking


Unbanked and underbanked consumers find that maintaining a free, basic checking account at traditional banks often involves conditions they cannot meet. Banks typically require customers to maintain a minimum balance or set up a direct deposit of weekly paychecks to avoid fees. Unfortunately, for customers like Richardson, who need access to the entire portion of their funds and whose temporary gigs don't guarantee regularly scheduled paychecks, these mandates translate to yet another financial liability.

Recent data on unbanked and underbanked Americans shows that Richardson is far from alone. Last year, the Brookings Papers on Economic Activity (published by the Brookings Institution) found that almost half of all U.S. households could not come up with $2,000 in the event of an emergency. According to a 2011 FDIC survey of unbanked and underbanked households, nearly 70 million Americans are financially underserved by traditional financial services.

"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," Guggenheim stated in a press release. "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."

"Spent" will premiere this summer and is sponsored by American Express. The company currently offers two alternative financial products for the financially underserved, in their "Serve" and "Bluebird" prepaid debit cards. To coincide with the film's release, the Amex "Ventures" division has launched an initiative to finance and spur early-stage tech startups in creating solutions for these consumers. Said Guggenheim, "My hope is this film will shed light on this important issue . . . at a time when new technologies are opening up new possibilities to help fix this issue."

For Richardson, who currently owes thousands on loans she took to make ends meet, the experience has been sobering but the lessons have not been lost on her. "All of this has been real gloomy, but it was lessons that I have learned . . . I usually like to get my lessons for free, but these I had to pay for."

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