American Express Rolls Out FarmVille Prepaid Card

While other credit card issuers are still trying to figure out how this Internet machine works, American Express has just opened its doors in one of the most popular towns in social media – FarmVille. As part of its ongoing campaign to market itself to young, socially networked consumers, the company launched a new card that will reward FarmVille users with virtual “Farm Cash” for their real-world transactions. While this is certainly a clever promotion, is the prepaid debit card really worth America’s time? Let’s find out.

The FarmVille card is part of American Express’s campaign to market its new “Serve” line of prepaid debit cards to young consumers. When you take a look at the novel registration process, you have to admit that the company is doing a pretty good job of appealing to devoted virtual farmers. In order to qualify for the card, FarmVille users have to visit an American Express “Serve Farm” in the game. They have to take the seeds for a “Serve Money Tree” and plant one on their own farm. Once the large, fluorescent blue tree has grown to maturity, the users will receive an invitation to apply for the card.

After receiving their Serve card, which is co-branded by the game’s publisher Zynga and features a picture of the Money Tree on the card face, the users must then link it to a bank account or existing credit or debit card through American Express’s GreenDot MoneyPak. When it’s registered, they’re free to start spending.

This is not the first time that American Express has ventured into social media, either. Recently, the company also launched a campaign through Twitter that rewards cardholders for tweeting specific hashtags. Additionally, the company has announced that it will expand to other Zynga games like CityVille and CastleVille in the near future.

“It opens up tremendous opportunities to address segments of the market that we weren’t able to address with traditional credit or charge products, including the youth or under-served markets,” said Dan Schulman, American Express’s president of enterprise growth.

For FarmVille fanatics, this seems like a pretty sweet deal. However, users should be cautious about rushing headlong into prepaid debit. These cards are the most-pushed product in the industry right now. The market is growing an average of 42% per year and is expected to hit $167 billion by 2014. But while these cards are profitable, they’re also more dangerous to consumers. Prepaid debit cards aren’t protected under the CARD Act regulations, and so cardholders are often charged hidden fees for things like activation, monthly service, balance inquiries and more. The charges have gotten so out of hand that in a recent report, Consumer Reports Magazine stated that “These cards are laden with numerous types of fees and other gotchas, making prepaid cards a shaky alternative to a bank account with a debit card.”

In all fairness, though, the Serve card is one of the more consumer-friendly products on the market.

In conclusion, we think that the FarmVille Serve card is a clever marketing ploy that should appeal to many of the game’s more fanatical players. Is it a good alternative to a bank-issued debit card? Not really, but it won’t fleece you while you’re racking up all that sweet Farm Cash either. So if you’re totally determined to turn your farm into a virtual paradise, then you have our blessing to plant yourself a Money Tree. At the very least, it will make your farm a lot prettier.