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Apr 02, 2012

5 Minutes With Alex Cooper

CEO, Rezzcard

Arlene Hauben

New uses for prepaid cards are being developed as we speak, as different business groups recognize the value in prepaid applications. In this case, Alex Cooper, a veteran in payments, walk-in bill pay, and unbanked services, created and launched Rezzcard, a new rent-payment processing service in the affordable housing industry. The card provides an innovative walk-in rent payment solution, making life simpler for tenants in affordable housing.

Now being test marketed by property managers and owners in New York and New Jersey, Rezzcard provides a cost-effective payment solution for all classes of buildings and tenants. Cooper plans to expand the payment program nationwide to top urban housing markets, including Chicago, Los Angeles, Dallas region, and south and central Florida, where there are high concentrations of affordable housing.

I asked Alex to explain Rezzcard and how it smooths out the rent paying process for the unbanked and underserved, many living in affordable housing communities in urban areas.

AH: So, how does Rezzcard work?

AC:
Rezzcard is a new way for underbanked low income tenants to pay their rent, without getting a money order. All renters can use the Rezzcard instead of writing a check or paying with cash.

AH: That sounds good. If Rezzcard eliminates the trouble of getting a money order, where do tenants go to pay their rent?

AC:
Tenants can go to the same place where they get their money orders, but instead of getting the money order, they can use the Rezzcard to pay their rent.

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AH: What about the online option? I know there are ways to pay your rent or HOA dues online.

AC:
There are already many options for paying rent online. The market we want to reach is the unbanked – people who are accustomed to going to payment transaction service centers to pay bills. Using the Rezzcard, they can pay their rent at the same place.

AH: That makes sense. So if tenants have to go to the payment center anyway, why should they use the Rezzcard?

AC:
The advantage is to make it easier, more convenient, and safer for tenants to make their rent payments using cost-effective electronic payment methods that property managers are willing to accept.

AH: Do you have a particular connection with real estate or a special mission?

AC:
Rezzcard wants to improve the communities and lives of the tenants we serve. Financial literacy and credit building can start with something simple – paying your rent on time. Our  mission is to make it easy for our customers to pay their rent, save on fees and avoid penalties, establish their credit history, manage their finances, and eventually gain access to other bank-based products and services.

AH: Does this mean you want to be in a position to provide other financial services to these rental tenants?

AC:
Yes, Rezzcard gives us an opportunity to tap into the unbanked market through the multi-family housing industry. Our first step is to establish a rent relationship with low income tenants by accepting their rent payment and then find a way to provide them with other essential financial products and services. 

AH: It sounds like an ambitious plan. How big is the low-income rental market?

AC:
Over 70 percent of the apartment rental market, 12.74 million units, are rented by households with annual income less than $50,000. In addition, in half of these units, the household income is less than $20,000.

AH: What else can Rezzcard bring to the renter’s table?

AC:
Rezzcard is more than just a rent payment card for tenants. Our vision is to offer renters insurance, health insurance, discount prescription cards, and more. We would like to eventually convert underserved customers to prepaid debit card accounts and link them to banking services that will allow tenants to electronically deposit their payroll and automatically deduct their rent payment every month.

AH: In what markets are you testing the Rezzcard?

AC:
We are accepting rent payments in seven buildings in Newark, NJ. We have an agreement with Treetop Development LLC. They have several thousand tenants living in affordable housing who will be able to pay their rent bill in cash at neighborhood payment locations. Previously, many of these tenants, who do not have regular checking accounts, were required to buy money orders to make their rent payment.

AH: Why is buying a money order a problem?

AC:
If the tenant buys a money order and it is lost or stolen, it is difficult to get their money back. There is a delay and hassle in getting the money order dropped off or mailed to the property manager and there is no canceled check to prove they made a payment. With Rezzcard, within one hour of the tenant paying their rent in cash at the payment location the property manager has the transaction, funds are received the next day and the tenant has a receipt and electronic record proving when they made their payment. So basically, tenants will not have to waste time and money buying a money order, filling it out, mailing it, and waiting for the property manager to receive and post their payment in time.

AH: Where can a tenant make a Rezzcard cash payment?

AC:
Rezzcard has a partnership with two leading New York area based walk-in bill payment networks: Softgate Systems and Pay-O-Matic. These relationships will form the bedrock of our rent payments service in the greater New York area by allowing any tenant with a Rezzcard to make their rent payment within a few blocks of where they either live or work, seven days a week.

AH: Tell us why you chose to work with these partners?

AC:
Softgate is a nationwide company as well, but specifically in our initial marketplace in the New York City metropolitan area, they have nearly 1,000 neighborhood retailers that act as Rezzcard payment locations. Pay-O-Matic is already the most recognizable and largest check-cashing chain in New York with nearly 150 locations. In addition to the convenience that the Softgate and Pay-O-Matic agent payment network offers, we know that consumers already trust these companies with millions of dollars of bill payments and financial transactions because they are safe, secure, and 100% reliable.

AH: What about property managers? How do they benefit?

AC:
For property owners and managers there is a real-time 24 hour access to online report sites that shows each detail of each tenant’s payment and allows them to post the transaction to their account electronically.  They get comprehensive reporting. Tenant payments can be directly updated into more popular property management software packages.

The result is that Rezzcard will reduce the frequency of delinquencies, shorten cash flow cycles from cash payers, and dramatically lower labor costs in the office. Banks fees and admin costs are reduced, leaving more time for actual property management.

AH: What other financial services partners do you have?

AC:
We have recently teamed up with another rent processing company, ClickPay. ClickPay already offers their own payment processing solution to help property managers accept rent payments. Yet they found that many of their urban based property managers were seeking a solution for the cash based residents that had been paying with money orders. They liked the capability and focus of Rezzcard to deal with the unique needs of the underbanked customer.

AH: Thanks, Alex. Rezzcard sounds like a great way to help property managers and make life better for renters. Good luck in rolling it out. •



For more information about Rezzcard, contact Alex Cooper at acooper@rezzcard.com. Visit the website:rezzcard.com


 

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