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October 9, 2012

Wal-Mart offers bank account alternative with American Express

Wal-Mart Stores, the world's largest retailer, has been adding financial products for people who don't have bank accounts. Now it's targeting those who do.

A prepaid debit card called Bluebird, created through a partnership with American Express, will be available in more than 4,000 U.S. Wal-Mart stores and online next week, the Bentonville, Ark.-based company said Monday in a statement. Services include direct deposit, automatic bill pay and remote check capture using a smartphone application. The card has no monthly or annual fees, and doesn't require a minimum balance.

"Bluebird is designed as a checking and debit alternative," Daniel Eckert, vice president of financial services for Wal-Mart U.S., said in an interview. The product is for "those customers who are waking up to the skyrocketing costs of having a checking account."

Wal-Mart abandoned plans to start its own bank in 2007 amid opposition from legislators and financial-services companies. At the time, the retailer's application to open a so-called industrial bank in Utah would have enabled it to process credit- card and debit card transactions internally.

The retailer has been adding financial services and products to boost store visits in the U.S. after so-called same- store sales declined for two years through July 2011, according to Matt Arnold, an analyst for Edward Jones & Co. in Des Peres, Mo. Bluebird will probably appeal to the low-income consumers Wal-Mart depends on because they can often only afford basic accounts without such features, he said.

 "There's still a huge piece of the population that doesn't enjoy that, and for them this could wind up being a better alternative," said Arnold. The card appears to be created to increase store traffic and relevance rather than profit, he said.

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Poll

Do you think "blue laws" related to Sunday alcohol sales in Oklahoma should be relaxed? Choose the option that most closely reflects your opinion.

Alcoholic drinks should be sold Sundays in restaurants and bars, and liquor stores should be open.
Alcoholic drinks should be sold Sundays in restaurants and bars only; liquor stores should stay closed.
Liquor stores should be open Sundays, but drinks should not be served anywhere on Sundays.
The law should remain as it is now; liquor stores should be closed, and drinks should be served on Sundays according to county option.
No alcohol should be sold or served publicly on Sundays.
Undecided.
     View Results
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