Responding to cyber-powered commercialism: A Justin Bieber–endorsed bank card hits the market

Monday, May 20th, 2013

Cyber Tuesday Topics on TheFish103.9FM

SpendSmart is a pre-paid debit card service with additional tools and apps to help parents teach teens about spending and budgeting. Photo: Courtesy

A new celebrity backed prepaid debit card, called SpendSmart,recently launched and is aimed to attract tweens, teens and their parents. I wrote a column critical of the bank card because it had penalty fees and it was endorsed by teen idol, Justin Bieber. The CEO of SpendSmart asked me to take a second look, which revealed how the penalty fees could be avoided, and clarified that Justin Bieber is the ambassador, and that SpendSmart was not a “celebrity card” like the scorned Kardashian card of 2010. I will be publishing the second look in the Sacramento Cyber Safety Examiner column later this week after a conversation with a Sacramento-based banking professional who is also a parent of teenagers.

 Nevertheless there remain concerns about children being targeted for commercial exploitation in the network.  Below  is a preview of the second look and my thoughts about the importance of helping children recognize personal motivation to purchase products or services, especially financial instruments.

A new prepaid debit card, called SpendSmart, was recently introduced to the teen market featuring Justin Bieber as the money management ambassador for teens. The card features a service to help parents, with email alerts and budget balance sheets, teach teens how to budget and manage money.

It cost $3.95 per month if you use the card according to the design:

  • No cash transactions
  • Transfer balances on-line from your smart phone or computer, or there is a fee
  • Access your card balance on-line account via the app, or there is an ATM fee
  • The card has to be actively used within a specified time frame or there is a fee

Michael McCoy – CEO, SpendSmart
(Photo: courtesy)

According to SpendSmart CEO, Mike McCoy, the SpendSmart card delivers an application suite helping parents connect with their tweens and teens about budgeting and spending. There are email alerts and other tools to help parents coach and capitalize on teaching moments of transactions as they occur. He also stressed that Justin Bieber is an ambassador to encourage teens to embrace budgeting. “This is not a celebrity card,” McCoy said. He also indicated that they selected Bieber because of his humble beginnings (coming from poverty) and can speak with some authority about the importance of budgeting money.

“The behavior that we want to incent is responsible spending, and enable parents to track all transactions and with the opportunity to provide guidance,” McCoy said. “We offer educational tools so that parents can be involved in helping their children appreciate the differences between debit cards, credit cards, and prepaid cards. We provide information about using the appropriate financial products at the appropriate time.”

Below is the first in what is anticipated to be a series of educational and inspirational videos featuring Bieber:

I don’t know what Bieber’s actual experience with budgeting money has been before or after his fame and fortune. But I do appreciate that McCoy’s aim with this celebrity ambassador is to find a relatable identity to attract a market large enough to support this bank card service and the educational tools accompanying it. According to McCoy, Bieber’s music is broadly appreciated, not just by teens but also by parents. “Our market research showed that parents also had Bieber songs on their iPods,” he said.


Regardless of the objective, involving celebrities to engage consumers is concerning to me because in my mind it is more of the same commercial pressure aimed at children to spend, spend, spend.

In our cyber powered world, there is intense pressure to spend at any cost. As a cyber parenting adviser, I am hyper vigilant about the commercial exploitation of children in the network. Celebrities are used like the pied piper. For example, in 2010 the University National Bank was blasted by the Attorney General of Connecticut for coming out with a celebrity debit card featuring the Kardashians, which did not benefit the consumer.

If not through idolatry influence of celebrities, commercial exploitation presents itself as making a significant decision seem inconsequential (“money for nothing”), with additional perks, such as t-shirts and other give-aways. Over the past decade, banks have descended upon high school (18 years old) and college kids to sign up for bank accounts containing debit cards with penalties, and worse yet credit card accounts that capitalized on their financial naiveté. Many students racked up consumer debt. Even after congressional legislation prohibiting marketing on college campuses, the banks continue to solicit college students who are not prepared to fully appreciate the ramifications of opening credit (it goes beyond debt, it is how your credit profile is impacted).

Marie Hall, Executive Director of BeMoneySmartUSA in Carmichael, teaches financial literacy and employment skills to youth. According to Hall penalty fees is are always a concern when selecting any financial service, but is rarely emphasized in the marketing of it. Think about the balloon payments associated with no-qualifier loans of the too big to fail crisis.

Marie Hall, Executive Director of BeMoneySmartUSA and Farmer’s Markets in Carmichael, California.

So when I see a teen idol endorsing a bank card, it causes me concern. Even if the service is a good one, motivation is an important thing. Slowing down to appreciate our true motivation to make a purchase or enter into an agreement allows for discernment and wisdom.

The watchdog in me says…

Parents you know your children, and you know if their interest in a teen idol is balanced or not. The decision to enter into a banking relationship based upon clear criteria that have nothing to do with Justin Bieber, the Kardashians or even OneDirection, will send the signal to your child that the celebrity does not have more power than your own God-given ability to reason and make a good business decision.

We have a challenge to help kids understand the value of setting priorities for spending yes, but also for understanding where wealth comes from. It is not just about spending. It is about the quality of relationships that make earning, saving, giving, investing and spending possible, which is often lost in the messaging aimed at children.

To learn more about free financial literacy training and teen employment opportunities go to: BeMoneySmartUSA in Carmichael.


Joanna Jullien
(Photo: Christi Benz)

Joanna Jullien is an author, educator and speaker on strengthening the parent-child relationship in a cyber powered world. She is the author of The Authority In Me: The Power of Family Life in the Network Culture, produces The Sacramento Cyber Safety Examiner column on, a contributor for Three Moms and a Mike, and is the CyberParenting advisor on The Fish 103.9FM, Tuesdays.



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About Joanna Jullien

Joanna Jullien

Joanna ( and her husband have raised two sons in Roseville, CA. She has a degree from U.C. Berkeley in Social Anthropology (corporate culture). Her honors thesis was awarded the Kroeber Prize and funding from National Science Foundation grant. Joanna writes to help parents with the modern-day leadership challenges of raising children. She is a contributing writer for The Granite Bay View, the Press Tribune, the Sacramento Examiner, and editor of Banana Moments.