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Personal debt as a fashion accessory

By Emma Dawson - posted Thursday, 28 April 2005

Someone paid me by cheque the other day, which meant I actually had to go in to the bank, a rare occurrence in these days of Internet banking and electronic transfers. I spent 15 minutes in a queue of impatient people, reading the bank's various product guides. One of the glossy brochures stood out from the crowd. Among the pictures of smiling families and retired couples with golden retrievers was the image of a smirking, 20-something woman who looked like a refugee from a hairdressing advertisement. Her hair and make-up were perfect; her plunging black dress revealed a hint of cleavage. And there, dangling among the diamonds on her glittering necklace was a tiny, shiny credit card.

OK, I thought, it's saying that our credit cards are as precious as diamonds, or something. But on closer inspection, the brochure revealed the little silver card to be a real product, a mini credit card, about 25 per cent smaller than standard. Apart from that, it's exactly the same. So what's the benefit? Surely we're not really expected to attach it to our jewellery on a night out?

Well, we could. It's cute enough. And apparently you can still swipe it through an EFTPOS machine when you're shoe shopping, but you'll look so much more fashionable when doing so, even if you have to bend double to allow your card to reach from your necklace to the machine. And it comes with a normal sized "companion" card, so you can still use all the ATMs which have those so-last-season full sized card slots, and presumably so you're not joined at the neck to the ATM, making it impossible to catch up with anyone who relieves you of your cash while you wait for your receipt.


The mini card also comes with its own "must-have" accessories and in five fashion colours too. But it's not only  for we fashion-conscious ladies. The reverse of the brochure features an equally glamorous male, who also has his mini card strung from a chain around his neck. His side of the brochure carries the clever, double entendre slogan, "Wear it out".

Clearly, this is a product aimed at young adults. The colours and accessories mimic the accoutrements of the mobile phone craze and the marketing spiel is distinctly Bransonesque. You need to open a new credit account to get your mini card, so it's clearly not aimed at existing customers, although the temptation of a phone attachment may persuade some to make the switch.

Obviously, banks need to attract new customers, but what does the way they've chosen to pitch this product say about our society? At a time when Australians are being urged to save and to reduce our historic levels of personal debt, here we have a credit card that is being marketed as a fashion accessory. We're all in debt up to our necks. Do we really want to advertise that fact by wearing the symbol of our liability around our throats? When we're surrounded by things we don't need and worried about a future we can't afford, do we want to pretend that's cool? Surely a society in which personal debt is a fashion statement is bankrupt in more ways than one.

I say we say NO to the fashion-accessory credit card! What do the banks think of us, anyway? That young Australians can be manipulated into buying things they can't afford by dangling small, shiny objects in front of their eyes? That we'll be persuaded to trade in our trusty old full-sized credit cards, those cards that have brought us so much fleeting joy and lasting debt, for some dinky little newcomer just because it's the latest thing? How foolish do they think we are?

Australians are in record levels of debt. We need encouragement to save, not to spend, to rein it in, not to "wear it out". Cute double entendre it may be, but for a nation already addicted to living beyond its means, it is dangerous advice indeed.

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About the Author

Emma Dawson is a fellow of the non-partisan think tank Oz Prospect, and a member of the ALP.

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