Would you pay more for fast food knowing that the food was locally sourced and environmentally friendly?

The numbers were startling: Shares of Chipotle Mexican Grill shot up 12 percent on Tuesday after the company reported a nearly 26 percent spurt in its quarterly profit. For the fast-food industry, this was fresh evidence that the world of Big Macs and Doritos Locos Tacos has room for a menu with healthier-than-average food and higher-than-average prices.

But it came as no surprise to a new generation of smaller fast-food chains that are coming up fast behind Chipotle and its peers, and taking its “food with integrity” mantra even further.

A handful of rapidly growing regional chains around the country — including Tender Greens, LYFE Kitchen, SweetGreen and Native Foods — offer enticements like grass-fed beef, organic produce, sustainable seafood and menus that change with the season. Most promise local ingredients; some are exclusively vegetarian or even vegan. A few impose calorie ceilings, and others adopt service touches like busboys and china plates.

And despite the higher costs and prices, all are thriving and planning national expansions, some directed by alumni of fine dining or of fast-food giants like McDonald’s.

Their success marks a milestone: After decades of public hand-wringing about the empty calories and environmental impact of fast food, the farm-to-table notions that have revolutionized higher-end American restaurants have finally found a lucrative spot in the takeout line. The result already has a nickname: farm to counter.

“This is not a passing fad,” said B. Hudson Riehle, the research director for the National Restaurant Association, who added that locally grown food and sustainability were the top two customer priorities reported this year in the group’s annual poll of American chefs. “It’s only going to get stronger.”

This month, Veggie Grill, a vegan chain with 25 stores on the West Coast that serve nachos and Buffalo wings made with meat substitutes, showed up at No. 7 on Restaurant Business magazine’s annual list of the 50 fastest-growing small chain restaurants  in the United States, with a reported $26.6 million in sales in 2013; the company says its revenues jumped 47.9 percent from the previous year. 

At No. 10 was Tender Greens, which brought in more than $40 million in revenue last year from just 12 stores; that is over $3 million per restaurant — about 25 percent more than at Chipotle and Panera Bread, chains that are far better established.

LYFE Kitchen, which is to open a New York City branch this fall, brought in more than $3 million in its first year at one store in Palo Alto, Calif.

These ambitious new chains make up only a sliver of the nation’s $683 billion restaurant industry. But all are within its swiftest-growing segment, “fast-casual,” a subset of fast food that includes places like Chipotle and Panera, whose offerings are marketed as a rung or two higher than those of Burger King or Taco Bell: fewer frozen and highly processed ingredients, more-comfortable seats, better coffee and (sometimes) healthier food.

Fast food is served with a halo of virtue nearly everywhere these days: Subway introduced wholesome-sounding “nine-grain” bread in 2009, and McDonald’s made itself the country’s largest buyer of apples when it started selling apple slices in 2004.

Chipotle, the first chain to dive deeply into animal-welfare issues with its vow (since suspended from time to time) to serve only “naturally raised” antibiotic-free meat, recently posted controversial YouTube videos that demonize factory farming and boast of its relationship with small family farms.

But in order to be green enough for today’s customers, and to justify charging $12 for salad, the newer chains promise an even more exalted level of nourishment.

By adapting to the seasons, by eliminating genetically modified ingredients and mainly by serving “real” food — the kind of salad a Whole Foods shopper might toss at home, or the grilled herb-dusted albacore tuna that the same person might order in a more expensive restaurant — these chains set a higher standard for fast food.

That means no protein-powder shakes, turkey wraps and egg-white omelets, the staples of standard “healthy” chains, and more choices like the Cobb salad at Dig Inn, an eight-store chain in New York City that opened its first restaurant in 2011.

The substantial bowl of greens and grape tomatoes is tossed with blue cheese free of bovine growth hormones, local organic hard-boiled eggs, what the menu calls “naturally raised” bacon, freshly squeezed lemon juice, extra-virgin olive oil and yogurt (476 calories in all, for $9.19).

“Good food doesn’t have to be expensive,” Adam Eskin, the chain’s founder, said. “It’s not calorically defined. It’s not about being vegan or vegetarian or pescatarian. It’s just knowing where your food comes from and exactly what’s in it.”

Some of these terms are little more than buzzwords and branding: “Naturally raised” is not a category recognized by the Agriculture Department, and it is debatable whether consumers should be concerned about the amount of growth hormone in a tablespoon of cheese.

Still, posting the same prestigious ingredients usually seen on fine-dining menus on the wall of a fast-food chain is a bold move, and will soon become a challenge for the chains that plan to go national.

“Local and seasonal works for us in California,” said Erik Oberholtzer, a founder of Tender Greens, a Chez-Panisse-meets-Chipotle concept that now has 14 stores in California; the company works with Scarborough Farms, a 400-acre, family-run farm in Oxnard, Calif., as an investor as well as a supplier. “I don’t know if it would be scalable.”

If anyone has experience in scalability, it is the founders of LYFE Kitchen. Mike Donahue and Mike Roberts left McDonald’s in 2006; Mr. Roberts had been the company’s global chief operating officer, and Mr. Donahue its chief communications officer in the United States. Between them, the two had spent nearly 50 years nurturing the world’s largest restaurant chain and responding to near-constant criticism of its agricultural, ethical and nutritional practices.

“Having worked at the scapegoat for everything that’s wrong with food in America, we know what issues consumers care about,” Mr. Donahue said.

In 2011, with more than 100 investors, they opened the first LYFE Kitchen; now they simply refer to McDonald’s as “the old place.”

“At the old place, we had to learn everything about GMOs, recycling, animal welfare, calories, sodium, fat, social responsibility,” Mr. Donahue said. “We took all of that and poured it into the new place.”

LYFE Kitchen has a mission to go with its name (an acronym for Love Your Food Everyday) and motto (Eat Good. Feel Good. Do Good.). Each of its 10 restaurants, strategically distributed from California to Illinois, has a wall of fluffy herbs growing in the dining room, serves only grass-fed beef, uses china instead of plastic and keeps all entrees under 600 calories.

“We want to be the place where the vegan can come for the portobello burger with almond-milk cheese, with the Neanderthal friend who just wants a really good cheeseburger,” Mr. Donahue said. “We want to beat the vegetarian veto, where one person gets to decide where the whole group is going to have lunch.”

Coming from the other end of the culinary spectrum, Mr. Oberholtzer arrived at a similar place.

“Most of my career was centered on feeding what you might call the 1 percent,” said Mr. Oberholtzer, a chef who worked at Chez Panisse and Lark Creek Inn in the Bay Area and was executive chef at Shutters on the Beach, an upscale hotel in Santa Monica, Calif.

In 2006, he and two partners left Shutters and began putting their longstanding relationships with food producers to work at Tender Greens, which serves mainly vegetables (locally grown) in salads with meat (humanely raised) and seafood (sustainably fished).

Mr. Riehle, of the restaurant association, said chains like Tender Greens were perfectly timed to compete for the substantial combined buying power of health-minded baby boomers and idealistic, tech-savvy younger diners.

“The boomers are still strong but dwindling in numbers, and people between the ages of 18 and 34 are growing into their strength as consumers,” Mr. Riehle said. “A decade ago, I don’t think there was enough overall awareness of food issues to support this kind of enterprise.”

SweetGreen, which has 27 outlets in and around the cities of Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Washington, was started in 2007 by three Georgetown University seniors and is tightly connected to that younger demographic; its founders, Nicolas Jammet, Nathaniel Ru and Jonathan Neman, are all still under 30. (Mr. Jammet grew up in the kitchen, the son of André and Rita Jammet, who owned La Caravelle, the luxe New York restaurant that closed in 2004.)

Although Mr. Jammet said the target customer for their seasonal, local salads is an active, in-the-know type of any age (they use the term “conscious achiever”), SweetGreen has branded itself with events like SweetLife, an annual music and food festival; an active social media presence and a smart Instagram feed; and careful partnering with trendy urban brands like SoulCycle and Lululemon.

And more than the other chains, SweetGreen uses its loyalty program and its mobile apps to track, predict and guide customers’ behavior. In addition to where they eat and what, customer profiles include gender, age, ZIP code and other data that provide clear, real-time feedback.

“We’ve been bringing in a lot more men since we added these,” Mr. Jammet said, pointing to steaming canisters of organic wild rice, quinoa and farro. “Some of them still just don’t see salad as a meal.”

If a friend was running for Senate, and you already donated to his campaign, would you ask two other people to donate $10,000 each and promise to repay them for their political contributions?

Nobody wants the summer to end, but especially not Dinesh D’Souza.

In June, he published, “America: Imagine a World Without Her,” which spent a week as the No. 1 book on Amazon, and is currently No. 2 on the New York Times nonfiction best-seller list.

In July, he released a companion film, which has grossed more than $12 million, already roughly the same as the total of such well-known documentaries as “Hoop Dreams” and “Roger & Me,” counting inflation.

But in September, he will stand before a judge in a Manhattan courtroom and face a possible prison term after pleading guilty earlier this year to a violation of campaign-finance laws.

“The whole experience has been undoubtedly traumatic,” Mr. D’Souza said of his prosecution. “But I’m determined not to let it deter me.”

Even with the prospect of jail time looming, Mr. D’Souza has emerged as the right-wing media star of the moment, a seemingly constant presence on talk radio and Fox News. During the run-up to the film’s release, he appeared at screenings across the country, arriving, rock-star style, on a tour bus emblazoned with a giant image of his face.

Animating both the book and film is Mr. D’Souza’s claim that America is under attack from within — and that the enemy is its own government, as well as its progressive collaborators in Hollywood, academia and the mainstream media. In Mr. D’Souza’s telling, their goal is to undermine the country’s self-image and standing by replacing the narrative of American greatness and exceptionalism with one of guilt and shame.

Mr. D’Souza has long been known as a conservative provocateur, but his latest incarnation as a right-wing Michael Moore represents a significant departure for a man who was once seen as the next William F. Buckley Jr. His success as a documentarian has also opened up the possibility of a new medium for conservatives, one that has mostly been dominated by liberals.

“With film, you have a grand platform to alter the national conversation in a profound fashion,” said the radio host Laura Ingraham, who has known Mr. D’Souza since college. “I think that’s more important in many ways than the daily television hits or radio shows.”

Mr. D’Souza’s surging popularity stems in part from his background. Born and raised in India, he graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Dartmouth and has been affiliated with some of the country’s most respected conservative think tanks.

Both his book and the film are rife with controversial assertions. “How, for example, did Obama get elected as a complete unknown?” Mr. D’Souza asks in the book. “There is a one-word answer: slavery. America’s national guilt over slavery continues to benefit Obama, who ironically is not himself descended from slaves.”

Newt Gingrich, former speaker of the House and co-host of CNN’s “Crossfire,” says Mr. D’Souza’s roots and scholarly bona fides give him “credibility” in right-wing circles. “A lot of conservatives feel comfortable being told things by Dinesh that they might not exactly feel comfortable being told by someone else,” he said.

After Dartmouth, Mr. D’Souza worked at the Policy Review, a conservative journal in Washington, before joining the Reagan administration in 1988 as an adviser. His first book, “Illiberal Education,” published in 1991, was at the center of a debate over so-called political correctness on America’s college campuses.

Since then, however, Mr. D’Souza’s career has taken a series of unexpected turns. His views have drawn criticism not only from the left but also from the right. His 2007 book, “The Enemy at Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11,” ignited outrage among some conservatives, who considered its thesis — captured succinctly in the subtitle — not only deeply flawed but irresponsible. And in 2012, Mr. D’Souza abruptly resigned as president of King’s College, a Christian school in Manhattan, after it surfaced that he was involved with a woman who was not his wife.   

Mr. D’Souza, 53, said his foray into filmmaking began after a talk with the billionaire Joe Ricketts, a major donor to right-wing causes. According to Mr. D’Souza, Mr. Ricketts was taken with his 2010 book, “The Roots of Obama’s Rage,” and wanted more Americans to be exposed to its thesis, which argues that Obama is carrying out the anticolonial agenda of his Kenyan father.

“A book can reach 50,000, maybe 100,000, people,” Mr. Ricketts said, as recalled by Mr. D’Souza. “How do you reach a million people?”

“You have to make a movie,” Mr. D’Souza replied.

The result was Mr. D’Souza’s first film, “2016: Obama’s America,” which was released during the 2012 campaign and is currently the second-highest-grossing political documentary of all time, behind only Mr. Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11.” Mr. Ricketts invested in “2016: Obama’s America,” but not in the most recent film.

In the process of becoming one of the most influential voices on the right, Mr. D’Souza has alienated a number of the conservative intellectuals who once looked up to him. Some accuse him of cynically using his academic credentials to advance false, reductive ideas in order to sell books and movie tickets.

“He was the all-star, the guy every student aspired to be,” said James Panero, who graduated from Dartmouth in 1998 and is now executive editor of The New Criterion, a conservative literary journal. “But I think the rewards of playing to the crowd, of throwing out red meat, have become too great.”

In a sense, Mr. D’Souza’s trajectory is emblematic of a broader shift in the conservative movement. The policy journals and think tanks that once played a key role in shaping conservative thought have been marginalized by the grass-roots populism of talk radio, Fox News, local political movements — and now, perhaps, documentary films.

“The idea that American politics is made by a kind of professional elite was always a bit dubious and is becoming less and less true,” said Mr. D’Souza.

A little controversy has also helped raise Mr. D’Souza’s profile. Costco carried his new book when it was first published, but decided to drop it several weeks later. The move provoked an outcry on the right, which accused the retailer of political censorship; the company’s co-founder, James D. Sinegal, is a major Democratic supporter.

Costco insisted that the decision had nothing to do with the book’s author. “We don’t do things based on political beliefs,” said Richard A. Galanti, the company’s chief financial officer. “The book wasn’t selling well, so we decided to pull it.”

Regardless, Mr. D’Souza exploited the opportunity, taking to Fox News, radio and Twitter to accuse the retailer of trying to silence him. The interest generated by the ensuing furor, coupled with the release of the companion film, drove up sales, prompting Costco to restock the book.

Mr. D’Souza also spied political motives behind his campaign-finance prosecution. Earlier this year, Preet Bharara, the United States attorney in Manhattan, announced criminal charges against Mr. D’Souza, accusing him of skirting contribution limits by arranging to have two people donate $10,000 each to the Senate campaign of a friend, with the understanding that he would reimburse them.

His lawyers accused the Justice Department of singling out Mr. D’Souza because of his condemnation of Mr. Obama — a claim the government vehemently denied. Mr. D’Souza pleaded guilty in May and faces up to two years in prison.

The criminal indictment makes a brief appearance near the end of Mr. D’Souza’s new film. Harvey A. Silverglate, a lawyer and outspoken critic of law enforcement, explains that on a normal day, the average American does three things that could be deemed felonies “by some ambitious Department of Justice prosecutor.” Soon after, Mr. D’Souza tells the story of the Internet folk hero Aaron Swartz, who committed suicide last year after being charged with computer fraud.

Enter Mr. D’Souza, in handcuffs: “the latest victim to be targeted by the Obama White House,” says the voice-over from the Fox News host Sean Hannity.

“Where will they stop?” Mr. D’Souza asks. “At the point where we stop them.”

Should e-cigarettes continue to be allowed to advertize at sporting events where tobacco ads are banned because they help people quit smoking cancer-causing tobacco cigarettes? What about on YouTube? Should the laws regulating tobacco cigarettes apply to e-cigarettes?

State attorneys general must investigate, and consider taking legal action against, e-cigarette companies that appear to be using some of the same advertising tactics that once drew young adults into smoking, a Kentucky deputy attorney general told his law enforcement colleagues gathered here for a retreat to discuss emerging legal issues in states nationwide.

The gathering of nearly two dozen attorneys general, and senior members of their staffs, came on the 20th anniversary of the initiation of the historic lawsuit that states filed against tobacco companies — resulting ultimately in an approximately $10 billion annual payment, which is still being made, and an agreement to restrict advertising everywhere from outdoor billboards to sports events, to try to curtail the appeal of tobacco to youths.

Sean Riley, the chief deputy attorney general of Kentucky, told his law enforcement colleagues that Kentucky had left behind its status as the state with the highest percentage of youth smokers. But he said he was concerned that e-cigarette advertising could reverse that progress. He cited several examples.

He said that the nicotine in e-cigarettes was not healthy for young people and that e-cigarettes, whose use has surged among school-age children nationwide, might be turning into a gateway to cigarette smoking, instead of a way to quit.

“We are at the very beginning stages of a new sort of revolutionary product here,” Mr. Riley said. “We need to be prepared, to work individually and collectively, to use our consumer protection acts to raise the floor of conduct we are seeing.”

Jeffrey Weiss, the general counsel at NJOY, an independently owned e-cigarette company, said he agreed that the state and federal authorities must move to adopt regulations appropriately governing e-cigarettes, such as limiting sales to youths.

But he said that the industry’s growth was actually a public health boon, given the role that e-cigarettes can play in helping people quit smoking cancer-causing tobacco cigarettes.

“We can save millions of lives,” Mr. Weiss said.

Attorney General Tom Miller of Iowa, a Democrat, who has been in office since the tobacco case was settled in 1998, said that law enforcement officials must tread carefully.

“The price of getting it wrong either way is high,” Mr. Miller told his colleagues. He noted that if they did not regulate the industry properly, e-cigarettes might increase tobacco use among youths, but that if they regulated it too intensely, it might limit the effectiveness of e-cigarettes as a way to quit tobacco.

Among the problems with the e-cigarette industry, according to Mr. Riley and other senior law enforcement officials at the meeting, are e-cigarettes with flavors like Cherry Crush and Peach Schnapps, which are sold by the e-cigarette company Blu and may be particularly appealing to children.

A letter signed by 40 state attorneys general last year urged the federal Food and Drug Administration to regulate e-cigarettes, addressing issues like advertising, ingredients and sale to minors.

But the attorneys general already have the power under consumer protection laws to intervene against companies that make inappropriate health claims or sell items, like nicotine refill cartridges, that are not properly packaged to prevent them from being accidentally opened by a child and consumed, Mr. Riley said.

Mr. Riley and Matthew L. Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, both ran through a series of recent e-cigarette advertisements that echo techniques once used by tobacco companies, like cartoon characters that are using e-cigarettes, or advertisements that feature celebrities like Courtney Love and Robert Pattinson.

The e-cigarette industry has also started advertising at sporting events where tobacco ads are banned. The problems are particularly acute, the officials said, with less traditional forms of advertising, like on YouTube and other social media sites.

“Today, as a result of the failure of the government to act swiftly, the marketplace for e-cigarettes is truly the Wild West,” Mr. Myers said.

One question debated at the gathering this week has been whether state attorneys general should try to force e-cigarette companies to comply with the same standards imposed on tobacco companies, a proposal to which Mr. Weiss of NJOY strongly objected.

NJOY, which intends to release its own line of flavored e-cigarettes soon, also objected to any move to try to limit the use of these flavors. Mr. Weiss said industry-sponsored research had shown that tobacco smokers were much more likely to completely quit smoking when they used a flavored e-cigarette.

David B. Abrams, a researcher at the Legacy program, which was funded by the tobacco settlement and does research to encourage the reduction of smoking, told the attorneys general that medical research had shown that e-cigarettes appeared to be about as effective as nicotine replacement therapy in helping people quit smoking. But data also show that e-cigarette use among youths who tried them at least once doubled from 2011 to 2012, reaching about 6.8 percent.

While gathered here in Park City for a retreat sponsored by the Conference of Western Attorneys General, the law enforcement officials also talked about how best to deal with the legalization of marijuana taking place in certain states.

Attorneys general from Washington State and Colorado, where marijuana has recently been broadly legalized, briefed other officials about problems they said they had encountered. They cited edible marijuana products that are packaged in a way that can be appealing to children and that have insufficient labeling, resulting in consumers’ eating an excessive amount of the drug and, at times, leading to accidents and even deaths.

Attorney General John W. Suthers of Colorado said that the percentage of fatal car accidents attributed to marijuana use had jumped to 15 percent from 8 percent in the last three years. He urged other attorneys general to prepare for possible legalization in their states.

“I encourage you not to be smug,” Mr. Suthers, who opposed the legalization, said. “It’s coming your way. This is a very well-financed and well-organized movement.”

If you were a bank president, would you invest resources to provide low-fee banking for low-income people even though many of these accounts barely break even?

One woman kept her savings — a $100 bill — in the freezer. Another, a single mother in Texas, said she had only enough extra cash each week to buy one wooden letter, for $3, to spell out her daughter’s name on her bedroom wall. A third, a housekeeper in Brooklyn, lives in a homeless shelter.

These are not the customers a big bank would normally covet, let alone cater to. But an increasing number of the nation’s biggest lenders are doing just that, devising low-fee banking especially for customers with troubled finances. The products, including bare-bones bank accounts and prepaid debit cards, are hardly big money makers — in some cases, the banks barely break even.

But for the banks working to overhaul their public images in the aftermath of the financial crisis, the products offer a different and potentially far bigger payout: good will from regulators and a chance to woo more customers who might just become profitable in the long run.

“Banking still ranks among the worst industries in the public’s opinion,” said Mike Mayo, a banking analyst at the brokerage firm CLSA. “This is good for the customers and good for the banks’ images.”

Bank of America, for example, which faces a multibillion-dollar penalty for its crisis-era mortgage practices and is trying to shake a reputation for dubious home foreclosures, has introduced a banking account intended to prevent troubled customers from running up fees for overdrawing their balances.

As part of those efforts, Bank of America executives shadowed low-income families in four cities and asked them to create collages that showed how they felt about money. JPMorgan Chase, which has had its share of legal and regulatory woes, has developed a low-cost prepaid card that comes with many features of a traditional bank account. And American Express, known for catering to affluent customers, sponsored a 40-minute documentary, narrated by the actor Tyler Perry, that bank executives said was created to expose the costs of living without a bank account.

Still, it is hard not to be skeptical, particularly because the banks, most recently in the subprime housing crisis, have traditionally wrung vast profits from some of these same customers, who paid steep rates for loans and high fees on basic checking accounts. And the new accounts still have their share of fees — JPMorgan’s prepaid card, for example, costs $4.95 a month — although they tend to be smaller than in the past.

The latest round of banking products also highlights some banks’ longer-term strategies. While the customers might not be profitable right now, they could become much more valuable once they start taking out auto loans, credit cards and other types of higher-margin credit. An influx of borrowers would also help banks as they grapple with tepid economic growth and a financial landscape upended by regulations that erode traditional profit centers like risky trading.

KeyBank, a lender based in Cleveland, for example, hopes to sell products like a line of credit and auto loans to customers who use its basic low-fee bank account.

“Being the right thing to do has a short shelf life,” said Bruce Murphy, the bank’s head of corporate responsibility. “Unless you really have an underpinning of the economics, it will not survive.”

For now, the banks are winning rare praise from regulators who are concerned about the ranks of people — roughly 10 million households in the United States — who are pushed onto the financial margins, where they are forced to turn to expensive payday lenders.

The products, some regulators say, might help coax back into the banking system people like Esther Guzman, the housekeeper living in a Brooklyn homeless shelter, who said she had to abandon her bank account after running up nearly $700 in overdraft fees.

Today, Ms. Guzman, 47, pays roughly $13 to cash a check. She brings any money left over to her aunt’s house for safekeeping.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation has taken up the issue, forming an advisory committee on economic inclusion made up of bank executives, consumer advocates and government officials to encourage initiatives that expand access to the banking system. At a hearing in April, bank executives, used to testifying about their various misdeeds, found themselves in an unusual position: recipients of high praise.

“I think what you have done is remarkable for the country,” Martin Eakes, chief executive of the Center for Responsible Lending, told an executive at Bank of America, referring to its new account.

The idea for that account came after Brian T. Moynihan, the bank’s chief executive, expressed concerns about growing customer complaints over high overdraft fees. Executives fanned out across the country, interviewing low-income people like the woman who kept $100 in her freezer. While the money thawed, the woman said, she had time to consider whether she really wanted to spend it. Throughout the interviews, the people complained about overdraft fees.

One of the collages Bank of America asked people to assemble, which hangs in its offices in Charlotte, N.C., features a glamorous woman with the words “want,” “desire” and “resistance” written on her shoulder.

The result of the research is the SafeBalance account, which comes with a $4.95 monthly fee. It allows customers to make direct deposits and pay bills online, but not write paper checks.

There is one catch: The product is not expected to make the bank any profit. But bank executives say it will help reduce the number of calls from exasperated customers complaining about high fees.

It is not just the biggest banks. American Express sponsored a documentary called “Spent: Looking for Change” to show the costs for those who live without one of the centerpieces of American financial life — a bank account. “It’s truly expensive to be poor,” said Daniel H. Schulman, a group president for enterprise growth at American Express.

The documentary comes as the bank looks to broaden its customer base, specifically catering to lower-income customers. The development of prepaid cards traces, in part, from research gathered by Mr. Schulman and other American Express executives.

In February 2013, Mr. Schulman tried to navigate basic transactions like cashing a check without a bank account or credit card. Simply to cash a check — a privilege that cost him a 5 percent fee — he had to wait in line for hours. The wait alone cannibalized nearly half his day, amounting to what he called “a part-time job.”

The Bluebird card, one of the American Express offerings sold at Walmart stores, has some of the same features that would come with a traditional checking account, allowing customers to write checks and receive direct deposits.

Bank of America considered creating a prepaid card like Chase, but decided to offer a traditional bank account instead.

After testing the account in Washington, D.C., and five states, including Michigan and Rhode Island, the bank has started offering it nationwide but has no illusions about its potential.

“It is not going to be something that we are going to be actively marketing as a profitable product to grow the company,” Thong Nguyen, the head of retail banking at Bank of America, told the F.D.I.C advisory panel in April.