BREAKINGVIEWS-Walmart's banking twist curls through many cracks

By Daniel Indiviglio

WASHINGTON, Oct 8 (Reuters Breakingviews) - The retailer's new venture with American Express looks a good option for poorer Americans lacking access to financial services. The card also may tempt bank customers with a model that's neither credit nor typical debit. But with deposits uninsured, regulators must watch closely.

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- Walmart Stores and American Express said on Oct. 8 they were teaming up to offer a prepaid debit card in an effort to provide financial services to U.S. consumers who often don't have access to traditional bank accounts. The companies call Bluebird a checking and debit card alternative.

- Customers will be able to deposit cash with Walmart cashiers, as well as use online and mobile services to check their account, pay bills, deposit checks and transfer funds. The new card can be used for purchases at any retailer that accepts American Express. In early 2013, customers will also be able to write checks for their account.

- The Bluebird card will have no periodic, activation or deposit charges, the companies said. While withdrawal fees will be waived at 22,000 Moneypass Network ATMs for customers who direct deposit at least a portion of their paycheck into their Bluebird account, others will pay a $2 transaction fee within the network. All customers would pay that fee outside the network along with any applicable third-party ATM fees.

- The card will also come with some typical American Express benefits like purchase protection, roadside assistance and fraud protection.

- Reuters: Wal-Mart, Amex team up on card for lower-income shoppers


(The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)

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(Editing by Jeffrey Goldfarb and Martin Langfield)