American Express is expanding its cash reload network for its Serve prepaid cards through a partnership with Wal-Mart Stores Inc.
"We're bringing the total of free cash loading location to about 19,000, making us the largest cash reload network in the country," says Stefan Happ, senior vice president and general manager of online and mobile at Amex. Walmart is the largest retailer in the world and the largest distributor of reloadable prepaid cards in the U.S., he says.
Walmart joins a reload network Amex established with InComm last year to allow Serve account holders to reload their cards at 7-Eleven and CVS stores.
The Amex partnership is the latest of Walmart's many aggressive moves in payments. Last week, Walmart launched a money transfer service, "Walmart-2-Walmart," which allows transfers of up to $900 between Walmart's approximately 4,000 U.S. locations.
The prepaid card issuer Green Dot also worked with Walmart to improve its own prepaid reload capabilities through a system Green Dot calls Swipe Interface Technology. This system allows consumers to reload a prepaid account by providing cash at the register instead of purchasing a separate reload card.
Walmart sells Serve prepaid cards at Walmart's Money Centers, customer service desks and in the reloadable prepaid card section.
Amex has worked with Walmart for several years, offering its gift cards in Walmart stores and launching the Bluebird prepaid card in collaboration with the mega-retailer.
Both Serve and Bluebird would appeal to the underbanked and unbanked, Happ says.
The "unhappily banked, those with existing bank relationships but are looking for a better value alternative" would want to use Bluebird, Happ says, whereas the Serve card is more addressed to those that are completely unserved by traditional financial institutions.
Serve is also part of the Isis mobile wallet. The Isis wallet supports several specific credit cards from Amex, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo; any consumer who doesn't have one of these cards must open a Serve account from within the Isis app to be able to use it for payments. The Serve app replaced an earlier Isis Cash Card offered by JPMorgan Chase during the Isis wallet's pilot.
Amex is trying to target a new demographic that has been excluded by the company's long history as a card brand for the elite.
"Historically Amex has been focused on the mass affluent," says Happ. "For the first time... Amex is creating products that are accessible to everyone. It's our long-term, sustainable commitment to provide consumer champion solutions to a segment that hasn't been able to enjoy this type of product."
Serve customers are a much younger demographic than the traditional Amex customer, with 54% of Serve users under the age of 35, says Happ. Ninety percent of Serve and Bluebird customers are new to the Amex brand, he says.
In recent years, Amex has said it sees prepaid as a business model rather than a product. To extend the message, Amex will also be releasing an omnichannel campaign to highlight how the underserved use its cards, says Happ.