Bluebird of Financial Happiness?

Walmart, AmEx launching no-minimum, fee-transparent alternative to debit, checking

Published in CSP Daily News

BENTONVILLE, Ark. -- Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and American Express have launched Bluebird, an alternative to debit and checking accounts designed to help consumers better manage and control their everyday finances.

Bluebird also allows consumers to also have the functionality of a digital wallet, including person to person (P2P) payments, mobile app functionality and the ability to control subaccounts for friends and family right from a smartphone. Bluebird is built upon the digital payment capabilities of American Express' Serve platform.

It has been developed for the tens of millions of Americans who are looking for advanced capabilities such as deposits by smartphone and mobile bill pay, fee transparency and no minimum balance, monthly, annual or overdraft fees, the companies said.

Bluebird will be available next week online at www.bluebird.com and in more than 4,000 Walmart stores.

Building on a pilot program launched in late 2011, Bluebird was shaped by feedback from consumers who said they were not getting the value they expect from traditional checking account and debit services because of increasingly higher fees, according to the companies.

"Our customers tell us that they're tired of navigating a complex maze of dos and don'ts to avoid the ever growing list of fees found on checking products. Bluebird solves this problem and we believe it's the best product on the market to help customers affordably manage their everyday finances," said Daniel Eckert, vice president of financial services for Walmart U.S. "At Walmart, we are always looking for ways to make a difference by using the strengths that come with our size, scale and reach to take on the challenges that matter most to our customers. Reducing the costs and frustration that come with high fees is one of these issues."

Dan Schulman, group president of enterprise growth for American Express, said, "The financial services landscape is changing. Technological advances, regulatory changes and evolving consumer needs are redefining payments ranging from prepaid, to checking and debit. Bluebird is our solution to help consumers who currently may be poorly served by traditional banking products. It allows them to easily and safely move, manage, and spend their money. In an era where it is increasingly 'expensive to be poor,' we have worked with Walmart to create a financial services product that rights many of the wrongs that plague the market today."

Bluebird merges the best of today's capabilities found in the payments, technology and financial services space and packages it into something that provides consumers with simple and convenient access to their funds so they can manage and streamline their money management.

Bluebird members can deposit money in a variety of ways including payroll direct deposit, remote check capture via the Bluebird mobile app, using cash at any Walmart register, or by linking a checking, savings or debit card to the account.

Members can also set up alerts and controls to manage their account, use their Bluebird card at millions of locations that accept American Express Cards and enjoy access to benefits such as Purchase Protection3, Roadside Assistance4, Global Assist Services5, fraud protection in the event the Card is lost or stolen, and 24x7 customer service.

If a customer's Bluebird card is lost or stolen, funds stay protected at American Express, and the card is replaced at no charge.

The only fees consumers will ever pay are clear, transparent and within their control, such as out of network ATM withdrawals for a consumer that does not have direct deposit.

Bluebird customers can get access to cash at a network of more than 22,000 MoneyPass ATMs nationwide. Cash access through MoneyPass' network is fee free and surcharge free for Bluebird customers enrolled in direct deposit. For customers not enrolled in direct deposit, each MoneyPass ATM withdrawal is $2. For out-of-network ATMs, each withdrawal is also $2, though additional ATM operator fees apply.

In the first quarter of 2013, Bluebird will be adding additional features, such as more options to deposit money and check-writing capabilities.

Consumers can sign up for free online or choose to buy a $5 account set up kit at a local Walmart for immediate use (with limited functionality). The set up kit includes a starter card, which can be funded with cash or a debit card at the register with any dollar amount between $1 and $500. Once funded, the starter card can be used immediately anywhere in the United States where American Express Cards are accepted. Customers must then complete their account setup online to access the full features and benefits of Bluebird, as well as receive their personalized Bluebird card.

With fiscal-year 2012 sales of $444 billion, Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart Stores serves customers and members more than 200 million times per week at more than 10,300 retail units under 69 different banners in 27 countries.

New York City-based American Express is a global services company. Bluebird is a prepaid access account issued by American Express Travel Related Services Inc.

Keywords: 
financial, loyalty, M&A