Roy Sosa | Austin | Bertrand | Mexico | Texas | eBay
Building “Economic Citizenship”
by American Way Staff
Roy Sosa (left, with brother Bertrand) cofounded Austin-based NetSpend, the nation’s largest prepaid debit card company (www.netspend.com). The Sosas, originally from Mexico, started NetSpend in 1999 when Roy, then a University of Texas at Austin student, was unable to buy a gift on the Internet because he didn’t have a credit card.
American Way: You built a $750 investment into a multimillion-dollar company with about 500,000 customers. What was the key idea?
Roy Sosa: As e-commerce was taking off in the late ’90s, everyone worried about security and privacy. But nobody thought about access. If I don’t have a credit or debit card, Amazon and eBay don’t exist for me. I can’t rent a car or even open a video store account. Our All-Access Prepaid MasterCard fixes that.
American Way: Who makes up the NetSpend market?
Sosa: There are 30 million teenagers without credit cards and 40 million adults who are either unbanked or underbanked, meaning they may have a savings account but don’t have a checking account or a credit card. We started out focusing on the teens, but soon realized the need went way beyond them.
American Way: What about demographics?
Sosa: We’re talking about working Americans, generally 28 to 32 years old, and heavily minority. They’re typically renters with incomes between $35,000 and $50,000 a year.
American Way: You talk about helping people gain “economic citizenship.” What do you mean?
Sosa: If someone always pays in cash, there’s no record of their transactions and they get no credit for what they’ve done. Without that record, they can’t leverage their assets to get financing for a car or house. We help customers establish a positive credit history.
American Way: What’s in your future?
Sosa: We forecast $1 billion in transactions this year. We’re looking at international plans and building a relationship with one of Mexico’s biggest banks. And we’re having a lot of fun.
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