Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT) reached a deal with prepaid-card firm Green Dot Corp. (GDOT) to offer checking accounts to the retailer's customers, building on an expansion into financial services that U.S. banks have sought to block.
The accounts, offered through Green Dot's banking unit, are linked to MasterCard Inc. debit cards and don't charge overdraft, minimum-balance or monthly fees when customers use direct deposit, Bentonville, Arkansas-based Wal-Mart said today in a statement. It will be available nationwide by the end of October.
Wal-Mart has expanded in financial services in the past decade, including a deal in April to provide money transfers. It hasn't been able to get a bank charter amid resistance from U.S. lenders and labor organizations, which opposed Wal-Mart's application to open a Utah-based industrial bank in 2005. The retailer abandoned the effort in 2007.
"Wal-Mart customers want easier ways to manage their everyday finances and increasingly feel they just aren't getting value from traditional banking because of high fees," Daniel Eckert, senior vice president of services for Wal-Mart U.S., said in the statement.
The world's largest retailer has opened centers where customers can cash checks and pay bills, and offers prepaid debit cards, including one through a partnership with American Express Co. and Pasadena, California-based Green Dot. Last year, AmEx added check-writing capabilities and deposit insurance to its Bluebird prepaid cards sold by the retailer.
Banks have fought the expansion, arguing that since Wal-Mart isn't subject to the same level of financial regulation, its ability to undercut their prices is unfair competition.
"I think we should keep these guys out of the business," Richard Kovacevich, Wells Fargo & Co.'s former chief executive officer, said at a conference in New York in 2006. "If we cannot be in the commerce business, it is appropriate that commerce not be in the finance business."
The new GoBank accounts require no minimum balance, but charge an $8.95 monthly fee that's waived with a direct deposit of $500 or more. Customers also have the option of receiving an early direct deposit of their payroll checks, if they provide advance notice from their employers.
Additionally, credit bureau ratings are not used to determine customer eligibility for the new accounts. Green Dot instead uses "proprietary underwriting techniques to allow almost any customer who passes an ID verification to open an account," it said in a news release Tuesday.
American Banker's Kristin Broughton contributed to this article