No bank? No problem with these innovations

Stacks of coins

Banking innovation isn't just for those with a bank account. Indeed, there are some good financial services products that have been introduced recently for the millions of consumers who tend to avoid banks.

I've always had a soft spot for these folks.

Back in my scuffling days, I was one of those vagabonds that bankers like to call the "unbanked." I was living paycheck to paycheck, moving from town to town and country to country, trying to find my place in the world.

I didn't have a direct deposit account, but every week like clockwork, I would show up with my paycheck -- from being a deckhand, cook, boat painter, Christmas tree harvester -- and convert it into American Express Travelers Cheques.

So, I was fascinated by the finalists in this month's sixth annual Underbanked Financial Services Forum, a New Orleans conference that searched "American Idol"-style for the next breakthrough financial services product designed to attract unbanked and underbanked folks.

The winner received $10,000. I'm not sure if a summer tour follows.

It provided an opportunity for my inner vagabond to audition these Idol candidates.

Candidate 1: PayCheck Accept enables the underbanked to enjoy the speed and convenience of remote deposit capture. Simply take a picture of your paycheck and use the PayCheck Accept app to deposit it into your bank account.

Which I suppose works great if you're one of the underbanked who can afford a smartphone.

Candidate 2: FlexWage works with employers to issue a payroll card that, for a small fee, can be tapped by workers for a cash advance (or "predisbursement") on wages earned but not yet paid.

My inner wanderer likes this product a lot. It can be a long spell between paychecks and fast food restaurants don't take IOUs.

Candidate 3: GoalMine enables consumers to invest in no-load mutual funds for as little as $25.

Are the unbanked really looking for investment options? I know I wasn't.

This year's Underbanked Idol winner was PayNearMe, which enables consumers to shop online and then pay bills in cash at more than 6,200 7-Eleven convenience stores nationwide or via a prepaid PayNearMe card.

And PayNearMe deserves the title. Living on a cash basis due to poor credit and no credit cards can really be a struggle. PayNearMe not only brought its solution to the street, it figured out a way to allow everyone to shop online, even if you're using a computer at the library.

And they did it in a way that combines privacy, dignity and a little gift-card swagger.

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