|A debit card for disaster victims
Fees may apply
In addition to greater possibility of fraud, a check cashed at a
nonbank location can incur fees between 2 percent and 10 percent.
While there are fees for some CAT card usage, they are decidedly
lower than nonbank fees.
Just as with other debit cards, the usual ATM fees
are charged on CAT cards issued by The Hartford if they are used
at a non-network ATM. As long as an insured of The Hartford uses
his card at a JP Morgan Chase ATM or at, say, the local Kroger's,
the transaction will be fee-less. "But if the transaction is
at a non-JP Morgan ATM, there would be fees," Pace says.
Travelers helps pay the non-network fees by loading
a few extra dollars on its CAT cards to defray the cost of using
a non-US Bank ATM, according to Ray Stone, vice president of catastrophe
management. "There is no fee to the customer," he says.
If anything distinguishes a CAT card from its paper
cousins, it's mobility. Like a regular debit or credit card,
you can use a CAT card virtually anywhere, anytime, for anything
-- a feature the Katrina victims who ended up in Houston and Utah
would have appreciated.
"It's those kinds of catastrophes, where people
are displaced from their homes and living and eating in hotels for
a significant amount of time, where this card has its greatest application,"
Unlike checks, CAT cards can also be reloaded, a capability
that, again, appeals to the displaced. According to Stone, all it
takes is a phone call from the insured and verification by the insurance
company that expenses have gone beyond what the claims representative
had originally loaded on the card. "With a flick of a switch,
we can reload the card. It's very convenient for the customer."
No drinks, no dice
Though neither The Hartford nor Travelers puts restrictions on how
their insureds can use a card once it's funded, the CAT card payment
mechanism does have that capability. According to the white paper
"Catastrophe Cards: Providing Victim Care, Program Control
and New Business Opportunities" by Jim Dean and Kirsten Trusko
of BearingPoint, insurance carriers "may restrict card use
against nonessential merchant types, such as alcohol, adult entertainment
and gambling." In fact, they say, "control can be imposed
down to the cash register within a store or by line-item purchases."
Of course, CAT cards don't solve everything. For instance,
you still need to find a claims adjuster and file your claim. And
if you file a claim for ABC but use your card to buy XYZ, your insurance
company isn't likely to put more money on your card for more "emergency"
But in this ATM, point-of-sale world, CAT cards will
soon be commonplace, "particularly for those who are displaced
from their homes," Stone says. "The more of those kinds
of catastrophes we have, the more people will become familiar with
these cards, the more the use of these cards will snowball."
And, of course, they can be used after blizzards,
Gregory Taggart is a freelance financial writer in Orem, Utah.