by Eric Stearley
In November, Wabash native Jessica Weiss will be making big waves in the world of crowdfunding and prepaid cards with the release of the WeCare Card, a project she’s been working on for more than three years. The card will, for the first time, combine the two industries, allowing for donation-based crowdfunding campaigns to upload money raised directly to a prepaid Mastercard product.
Jessica, who worked as a nurse in the neonatal intensive care unit for nearly 20 years, has long seen the struggles many families have as they try to balance urgent medical needs with everyday life. Primary among these struggles is, all too often, financial hardship. These struggles hit home when Jessica’s husband, Brad, was diagnosed with a brain aneurism in 2009.
“When word got out that Brad was sick, a lot of the community, family, friends, churches rallied, and we got all kinds of gift cards, greeting cards, home-cooked meals,” Jessica recalled. “I mean, the love and support from Wabash was amazing.”
In the midst of this outpouring of support, Jessica recognized a central problem that many people in similar situations face. Her family was very grateful for help in any form, but often, the gifts could have been more useful in a different form. As was the case with the Weiss family, extended hospital stays and a series of doctor visits can make travel and lodging as difficult for a family to pay for as the health insurance deductable itself. Jessica used the example of restaurant gift cards to explain the limitations that many run into.
“Brad had his surgery at Cleveland Clinic Hospital,” said Jessica. “What if I really need money for my hotel or gas or those things? So that’s kind of how the WeCare Card was born and how I came up with the idea.”
Jessica realized that there was a huge need for a more versatile “gift card.” At the same time, she recognized the growing success of crowdfunding, a (usually) internet-based means of financing start-up companies, projects, products, and most important to Jessica, causes. As platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo found success raising money for business and art endeavors, platforms like GoFundMe and YouCaring grew as donation-based models for helping people in times of need. Through social media, donors could connect with causes and help people through difficult times.
What these models accomplish in raising much-needed monetary support, they often lacked in convenience for the recipient. Sometimes, a campaign would have to be finished or a goal achieved before the money was received. Other times, donations were deposited into a personal bank account, making them hard to distinguish from other money, such as regular income. Perhaps most importantly, many crowdfunding platforms lacked a reliable verification process, causing some to question the legitimacy of campaigns.
“People see a link and they feel compelled to donate to a campaign,” said Chief Marketing Officer for WeCare Card Katharine Mobley. “Well, typically, unless you know that person, you really don’t know what you’re donating to. Being tied to a card, our verification process is much more in depth. It mitigates fraud at a whole new level that no one else is doing in the industry.”
Mobley took the job as WeCare Card CMO in January of this year. After spending much of her career marketing national brands such as Dodge, Bank of America, Arby’s, Vitamin Water, and Coca-Cola, she received a call from Jessica in late 2013 regarding the WeCare Card.
“It kept me awake at night. It made me realize that I could actually make an impact on something,” said Mobley. “I’ve done Super Bowl commercials and corporate responsibility of global brands. As much as it’s fun to work for a Coca-Cola…there’s a bit of hollowness to it, to a certain extent, when you’re at that level. So to build something from the ground floor up was something that was exciting to me.”
As it turns out, a lot of people found the WeCare Card exciting. In addition to Mobley, Jessica has brought on several other big hitters in the business world. Phillip Qualls, now serving as WeCare Card CEO, is based out of Memphis and brings his knowledge in the area of financial technology to the team. Michele Sullender, was the vice president of product development and marketing for Simon Property Group, owners of dozens of malls across the nation. She built and managed the Simon Giftcard Program and now has a similar title with WeCare Card. ABC Studios Vice President of Communication Janet Daily will provide direction from her position on the board of directors.
“As I’ve gone through this for three years, the biggest question is, ‘why hasn’t anyone done this before?” Jessica said.
“Ultimately, it’s a segue between the two industries that bridges a gap that was there before, just no one really saw it.” Mobley added.
As the WeCare Card team works to finalize the card design, ensure approval of several patents, and draw in capital investment, all eyes are on Las Vegas in November for Money 20/20, “the leading global event for innovations in money.” It is there that the WeCare Card will officially make its debut. It will be the first crowdfunding platform tied directly to a prepaid card, and with a patent in place, the connection between these industries will be exclusive to WeCare Card. This will give it a huge advantage over other platforms in terms of convenience and credibility.
In addition, they plan to “white label” the card, licensing the technology to other crowdfunding platforms, turning their competitors into customers. Crowdfunding exceeded $5 billion globally last year, and the prepaid industry is many times larger. This makes the prospect of introducing a revolutionary model connecting the two industries very exciting for Jessica and the rest of the WeCare Card team.
But through all the excitement and anticipation, they haven’t lost sight of its purpose; the whole idea is to help people and promote social good.
“Ultimately, what she’s trying to do is create a platform to give back to people in need,” Mobley said about Jessica. “Anything and everything to help get these people lifted up in times of need is what we’re all about at this point.”
The WeCare Card won’t be used for investments in businesses or start-ups. It will help people like Huntington resident Brian McCoy.
After an allergic reaction to his anti-seizure medications caused him to develop pulmonary fibrosis, Brian was fortunate enough to receive a lung transplant. He spent seven weeks in the hospital and has follow-up appointments every 3-6 weeks at the University of Michigan. Coming up with $7,000 out of pocket to cover medical expenses would be difficult for almost anyone. Gas and accommodations for his follow-up appointments stack up quickly. Add to this the fact the Brian and his wife, Heidi, have a blended family of six children, and it’s easy to see why they could use some extra help. Stories like this are what drive Jessica to make WeCare Card a reality.
As one of the first users of the WeCare Card, the McCoys created a free campaign on wecarecard.com explaining their story. As people come across their story, either through social media or the website itself, some will feel compelled to donate. WeCare Card and the card processor charge the donor a small fee to make the transaction. When the funds clear through the bank, the money is instantly available on the McCoys’ WeCare Card. They receive a text message notifying them of the donation and showing their current balance. The card can be used anywhere MasterCard is accepted and used as an ATM card when cash is necessary.
“It’s more instantaneous,” Mobley said when asked about the merits of this model over sending someone a check. “Think about it. With a check, they have to write it, mail it, it has to get to you, and then it has to be cashed. In a social media world, if someone sees your campaign that was posted on Facebook, and they’re in New York and you’re in L.A., they can transfer funds, and once they’re cleared, they’re on your card. If they were to actually write you a check, mail it, and it clears that bank, that could be a 14-day process. This takes all of that out.”
Given Jessica’s background in the medical field and her husband’s story, it only made sense to seed the WeCare Card in the area of medical expenses. They are currently in negotiations to implement the product in a large hospital network in the area.
Jessica’s vision, however, is not limited to the medical field. While it’s not for business investment, the WeCare Card is open to any donation-based endeavor. Already, a group is using the platform to raise money to send a team to the AAU National Volleyball Championship. One group is raising money to give children a new pair of shoes. It could be used to fund someone’s college education, raise money for a family vehicle, help to cover funeral expenses, or collect donations for a local charity event, just to name a few. Jessica also sees the wedding industry utilizing it in the future.
“When a bride and groom get married, it’s typically on a Saturday, and banks are closed on Sunday. If you’re like me, I left for my honeymoon immediately after, so I couldn’t take that money with me,” Jessica recalled. “So for the wedding industry, we feel this is going to be very popular.”
The variety of applications makes the release of the WeCare Card very exciting for Weiss and Mobley. The ability to license the technology to other crowdfunding platforms could position the WeCare Card as a leader in the industry. The big release, however, is still months away. Right now, they’re just trying to make people aware of this innovative tool.
“One, I want people to know about Jessica’s story and about why she created this – and obviously it’s seeded here,” said Mobley. “Two, I want people in the community to know it’s a resource. I want people to know they have this mechanism that is the WeCare Card, so they can not only create a campaign and have a card tied to it, but we’re here locally, so why not support your local business?”
As the company continues to fight for patent publication and anxiously awaits the November event in Las Vegas, they’re looking forward to what the future holds. Perhaps one day, Mobley will get a chance to work on another Super Bowl commercial, this time for the promotion of the WeCare Card instead of soft drinks.
“It’s not a company that’s just growing money for the sake of growing money,” said Mobley. “It’s growing money to help people.”