Prepaid financial services are thriving in Canada, with collaboration between financial institutions and fintech companies leading to innovative solutions.
Prepaid options, which use existing payment rails, make spending, saving, and moving money easier and safer than cash, and can be a practical alternative to traditional bank accounts. They are particularly beneficial for those without access to conventional banking, young digital-first users, gig workers receiving daily pay, small businesses managing expenses, and governments distributing benefits securely.
Fintech.ca sat down with Jennifer Tramontana, co-founder and Executive Director of the Canadian Prepaid Providers Organization (CPPO), to learn more about prepaid innovation. Jennifer has over 24 years’ experience working in payments and fintech and frequently speak on prepaid innovation, fintech communications strategy, entrepreneurship and women’s leadership in these industries.
What exactly is prepaid and how does it work for those who might not be familiar?
JT: Prepaid is a core sector of Canada’s financial services ecosystem and in recent years there has been a high degree of collaboration between financial institutions and fintech players to bring more innovative prepaid solutions to market. These solutions help people spend, save and move money – all using the existing payment rails.
People like prepaid because it is easy to use—just load money and spend. It is safer than cash, and if your card is lost or stolen, you can get your money back. You can load a specific amount onto the card or digital account, making it a straightforward and controlled way to manage your finances without needing a traditional bank account. This is especially appealing to people who may not have access to traditional banking services and younger people who find digital-first banking appealing.
Prepaid is simple, safe, and works for lots of things, making buying and managing money more accessible for everyone. Gig workers can have their pay distributed daily on prepaid cards. Small businesses can manage corporate expenses and distribute benefits efficiently. Governments can also utilize these systems for distributing benefits or subsidies securely and efficiently.
What inspired the creation of CPPO, and what does the CPPO do for the prepaid industry in Canada?
JT: The evolution of prepaid solutions into a digital payment technology platform reflects a broader trend toward digitization and innovation in financial services. This is a disruptive change that has been occurring over the past 20 years and prepaid has been and continues to be an important part of that evolution.
The CPPO was created to promote a positive environment in which prepaid payments can responsibly grow and flourish in Canada. We give our members the intelligence, education, access and network to tap into this innovative payments community. And we act as the voice of the industry with government and other stakeholders.
How has the prepaid industry in Canada changed over the years?
JT: The prepaid industry is now a CA$10 billion industry with a plethora of mature and upstart programs and strong value chain including networks, regulated banks and financial institutions, challenger banks and program managers. Prepaid is also the second fastest growing payment method in Canada. The open-loop prepaid market has grown a significant 76% in recent years. Our market research projects the Canadian open-loop prepaid card market to grow to CA$17.2 billion by 2025.
The rapid growth of the Canadian open-loop prepaid market has cemented the case for prepaid being a nimble platform and the innovation “rail” of choice to bring new digital payments and banking solutions into market for the benefit of more Canadian consumers and businesses. For instance, the rise in buy now, pay later (BNPL) providers, challenger banks and gig payment platforms are largely due to the availability of Canadian prepaid card rails.
How do Canadians use prepaid options today?
JT: Research from the CPPO indicates prepaid surging in popularity and satisfaction—96% of people say they are satisfied with prepaid. Our research shows Canadians aged 54 and under use credit and cash less frequently, opting for digital wallets, prepaid options and other digital payment methods at higher rates compared to those aged 55 and above. This trend aligns with the increasing adoption of digital payment methods for various use cases.
One prominent application is in neobanks, which are digital-only banks. Prepaid solutions offered by neobanks provide users with easy access to banking services without the need for a physical branch. This is particularly beneficial for individuals seeking a modern, convenient, and mobile-friendly banking experience.
Gig workers also heavily rely on open-loop prepaid payments. Freelancers, drivers, and other independent contractors often receive their earnings through prepaid cards, allowing for quick and efficient access to their funds. The flexibility and immediacy of prepaid solutions align with the dynamic nature of gig economy work.
Small businesses use digital prepaid platforms to manage corporate expenses, streamline payroll processes, and distribute benefits efficiently. This simplifies financial operations for employers and enhances financial well-being for employees.
Why do you think prepaid is becoming more popular, and do you expect it to keep growing in Canada?
JT: Prepaid’s growth is driven by a combination of convenience, accessibility, and adaptability to emerging trends in digital payments and financial technology. This will continue and accelerate.
For too long Canadians have been stuck in a cycle of debt and overdraft charges and difficulty budgeting their spending. They are looking for better ways to manage their finances in the simplest and most convenient ways possible. They have become attuned to their financial health and the innovations available to help improve it.
One prominent reason prepaid is becoming more popular is because consumers often feel prepaid is safer than credit. Our research indicated 60% of consumers are worried about using their credit card online, particularly for things like paying online, or for traveling. Not only do many consumers think prepaid is safer, but they also think it’s convenient and a helpful budgeting tool. This is particularly true for using prepaid for online purchases, as our research indicates 30% of consumers prefer using prepaid for online purchases because they can set a spending limit.
What do you think needs to be improved or changed in the prepaid industry?
JT: Prepaid must be a key part of the government’s payment toolkit — as demonstrated by other countries like the U.S. and U.K. Greater industry collaboration is essential to persuade government leaders to recognize prepaid’s potential for delivering equitable, efficient, and secure payments.
Government payouts have some of the largest gaps in the Canadian payments ecosystem. They should be an option to deliver tax payments, social assistance, and disaster relief. Prepaid solutions can address those gaps by driving efficiencies and allowing greater financial system access to those who are currently underserved by traditional products.
Lastly, is there anything else you’d like to add?
JT: Prepaid, operating on an established payment infrastructure, has catalyzed today’s payment innovations and the surge in consumer adoption of fintech solutions. By leveraging existing payment rails, prepaid products laid the foundation for accessible, secure, and versatile transactions. This flexibility inspired fintech innovators to build on prepaid models, introducing neobanks, contactless solutions and virtual payments for B2B. Consumers have embraced these advancements for their simplicity, speed, and adaptability, driving a transformative shift in how financial transactions occur. Prepaid’s foundational role has been pivotal in fostering the dynamic landscape of modern fintech solutions widely embraced by today’s consumers.