frequently asked questions

Who are the financially underserved according to this film?

Hardworking Americans who do not have a bank account or do not have access to traditional financial services. They rely on cash and checks and tend to turn to alternative financial services, like check cashers, pawn shops, money order services and payday lenders.

How many people does this issue affect nationwide?

This issue affects nearly 70 million Americans1. The FDIC estimates that more than 40% of Americans have used an alternative financial service at some point in their life.

What’s the film about?

Spent: Looking for Change is a film about everyday Americans without the financial options most of us take for granted and the movement giving them renewed hope.

Turning to pawn shops, check cashing services, and using payday loans to meet basic financial needs can be costly for many of us, with $89 billion a year going to fees and interest2 for using these types of alternative financial services.

It’s time for change. New technology, new ideas and encouraging dialogue around this issue can help make managing money simple and more affordable.

What is the message of this film?

For a large portion of Americans the traditional financial system just isn’t working. Lack of access to banking services and credit, as well as adequate financial education are holding people back. But unlike so many societal issues, this problem is solvable. Through technology, financial education and new solutions we can help to bring people from the margins to the mainstream.

Why is American Express sponsoring this film?

American Express is sponsoring this documentary to drive change and improve financial inclusion in the U.S. In support of this mission, we are working to address the pain points of the financially underserved by reimagining what a new future for financial services might look like through the use of digital technologies.

This is a large issue, and no one company can solve it alone. Our hope is that the film will help inspire and rally like-minded organizations in the public, private and non-profit sectors to work to find better solutions for this overlooked and underserved population of Americans.

Who is involved with this effort?

American Express is working with foundations, nonprofits, community groups and start-ups to drive change and help improve financial inclusion in the U.S. These organizations have been working to find solutions to bring those excluded from the U.S. financial system from the margins to the mainstream. We are convening these organizations to share their depth of knowledge and spotlight the programs that are making an impact in this space.

What inspired the film?

To experience using alternative financial services first hand, American Express Serve and Bluebird teams spent some time in the shoes of prospective customers. They found that managing their finances without a credit card or a checking account and doing things like paying bills, sending money to family, or cashing checks was practically a part time job. These experiences and stories inspired American Express to bring them to life in a documentary.

Does American Express have products to help the underserved?

Bluebird by American Express and Walmart and American Express Serve are products that can help address some of the pain points of the financially underserved.

What is Bluebird?

Bluebird is the checking and debit alternative offered in partnership with Walmart, powered by the Serve platform. Bluebird provides consumers with financial services that are an alternative to traditional checking and debit options with features such as free cash reload at over 4,100 Walmart stores, Direct Deposit, Mobile Check Deposit3, check writing4, online bill pay, personal financial management tools, peer to peer payments, sub-accounts, and a purchase price of $5 for a Bluebird Account Set-Up Kit in-store at Walmart. Learn more here:

What is American Express Serve?

Serve is a full service reloadable prepaid account that offers the ability to add cash for free at the register across 27,500 stores nationwide including CVS/pharmacy®, Family Dollar®, Walmart®, and participating 7—ELEVEN® locations, Direct Deposit, free ATM withdrawals at over 24,000 ATMs5, online bill pay, Mobile Check Deposit3, personal financial management tools, and a low $1 monthly fee that can be waived with Direct Deposit6. Learn more here:

What else is American Express doing to provide better solutions for the financially underserved?

American Express is leading several initiatives that use technology to help modernize traditional banking and advance a next generation of financial services and products. We are supporting new technology as well as the work of researchers and promising startups to bring more people from the margins of our financial system to the mainstream. Learn more here.

Who is in the film?

The film follows the daily lives of people who are underserved by the current financial system examining their challenges, and sharing their hopes and fears.

More information including bios and short video clips on the characters and experts featured in the film can be found here.

What is Tyler Perry’s role in the film and why did you choose to work with him?

Tyler Perry is the narrator of the film. He has personal experience with overcoming financial challenges in order to pursue his passions, and felt strongly connected to raising awareness for this issue. Growing up with financial and personal hardship in New Orleans, Perry persevered and built a savings in order to write and stage his first play, which paved the way for his now-successful career in not only plays, but also film, books and television. His personal tie to the issue and passion for helping to drive change made him a natural fit to be our narrator.

Who’s the creative team behind the film?


Davis Guggenheim, director and producer of An Inconvenient Truth, Waiting for Superman, and It Might Get Loud, leads the creative team as executive producer of this film. His documentaries rank among the top 100 highest-grossing documentaries of all time. His unique creative vision and original voice leads his team deep into the lives of his subjects. Guggenheim hand-picked his close protégé and emerging filmmaker, Derek Doneen to direct the film. Derek met Davis Guggenheim while creating content for Participant's Waiting for Superman. He produced and edited short form content for Davis, and soon after, the two directors began a formal partnership.

What’s the purpose of the film?

The purpose of the film is to put a spotlight on and drive change to improve financial inclusion in the U.S.

Where can I see the film?

The documentary debuted online on June 4th on The Young Turks' YouTube channel. The Young Turks is the largest online news show in the world combining unfiltered and independent commentary and analysis of politics, entertainment, sports and pop culture.

The film is available online for free, providing anyone the opportunity to watch, engage in conversation, and join in on helping to spread awareness or work towards building better solutions. It can also be viewed on American Express’ YouTube channel, Amex NOW interactive TV channel and connected TV application, Pivot TV, as a podcast on iTunes and here at, where further information is available, including more information about the issue and how to get involved.

Is the film saying that alternative financial services like payday loans, pawn shops and check cashers are bad?

No. These services are filling a need for many Americans and are often the only feasible financial options available for people who are unable to have their needs met in the traditional banking system. That being said, many of these services are costly options. There is still a great need and an opportunity for the industry to provide financially underserved Americans with more affordable and accessible options.

What’s next?

The film is only the beginning of what we’re hoping will be a larger movement to find solutions for this issue. American Express is helping kick-start this through a number of campaigns that support innovations in technology, financial literacy, savings and more. Click here to view the film, host a screening, learn more about these initiatives and find out how you can get involved.

1 Source: 2011 FDIC National Survey of Unbanked and Underbanked Households

2 Source: CFSI, November 2013 Market Sizing Report

3 Data rates may apply.

4 Checkbook fees may apply.

5 Transactions at non-MoneyPass® ATMs have a $2 American Express Serve fee. ATM operator fees may also apply. See for details.

6 With Serve our monthly fee is waived when you use Direct Deposit or add $500 during your monthly statement period. There is no monthly fee in NY, TX and VT.