NEW YORK – Walmart Stores Inc. and American Express are rolling out a prepaid card that they say offers unique services designed to help customers manage and control their everyday finances.
The two companies said Monday that Bluebird, which began during a pilot program late last year, will have no minimum balance and no monthly, annual or overdraft fees.
They say that the only fees that will be associated with the card will be transparent and within the user’s control, such as out-of-network ATM withdrawals by consumers who don’t use direct deposit.
Walmart and American Express say the card is an alternative to debit and checking accounts, and will include such features as the ability to deposit a check to one’s Bluebird account by simply taking a picture with a smartphone.
It will also offer the same fraud protections in an event the card is stolen or lost as other standard cards.
The companies say Bluebird was built on feedback from consumers who said they were bothered by rising fees related to checking accounts and debit services.
“We are re-creating and re- imagining what checking and banking services might look like in the 21st century,” said Dan Schulman, group president of enterprise growth at American Express, in an interview with the Associated Press.
He said the partnership with Walmart aims to set up a “moral equivalent of a bank branch at retail.”
The move comes as American Express is looking for new ways to expand its customer base beyond its traditional wealthy clientele. For Walmart, the Bluebird service is the latest financial product offering to be pushed by the world’s largest retailer, but it’s also the most comprehensive.
While the cards are aimed mainly at people who don’t have bank accounts or whose credit ratings are damaged, they also are becoming popular with consumers seeking to avoid surprise bank fees and keep from accumulating credit card balances.
But prepaid cards are typically not linked to a checking account. Monday’s announcement shows how the financial service landscape is changing in light of the rising popularity of smartphones and other technological advances, and evolving needs of consumers.
“Our customers tell us that they’re tired of navigating a complex maze of do’s and don’ts to avoid the ever-growing list of fees found on checking products,” Daniel Eckert, vice president of financial services for Walmart U.S., said.
The Bluebird cards can be used at a variety of locations that accept American Express. Users can deposit funds onto the card via direct deposit, with cash at any Walmart register or by linking a checking, savings or debit card to the account.