Is Wal-Mart's Bluebird Brilliant or an Invitation to the Slippery Slope?

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Don't look now, but Wal-Mart is getting into the banking business.

The retail giant has recently teamed up with American Express to offer a new account called the "Bluebird." Typical of the famed discounter, the account offers customers no minimum monthly balance requirements, no monthly maintenance fees, no annual fees, and no activation fees.

Bluebird customers can access their money for free using one of more than 22,000 ATMs, or simply be charged $2 if they are not part of a direct deposit program.

Is Bluebird too good to be true?

Yes and no.

On one hand, I think this is a brilliant alliance of two very different partners. Wal-Mart is obviously critical to mainstream America, so moving up the ladder to American Express gives them increased "oo mph" and brand projection.

It also allows the Bentonville, AR-based behemoth to tie up with a stable financial provider that's relatively unscathed by the financial crisis.

With regard to Amex, somebody in New York had a brilliant brain cramp when they hatched this union.

The company has always wanted to move into middle America but has been hamstrung on a variety of levels.

The Bluebird accounts give American Express unprecedented marketing reach into an entirely new customer profile while bypassing the traditional competitive credit card channels. At the same time, it also offers an entirely new source of capital.

While there are a good many details yet to be disclosed, I fully expect the Bluebird to be a win for consumers.

Not only is it going to create an entirely new class of "bank" but it potentially end runs the iron- fisted grip traditional financial institutions have had on consumers while also reducing the risks associated with credit markets. You can bet banking lobbyists will hate it.

Why Banks Already Hate Bluebird

And that brings me to the "no" part.

Join the conversation. Click here to jump to comments…

About the Author

Keith Fitz-Gerald has been the Chief Investment Strategist for the Money Morning team since 2007. He's a seasoned market analyst with decades of experience, and a highly accurate track record. Keith regularly travels the world in search of investment opportunities others don't yet see or understand. In addition to heading The Money Map Report, Keith runs The Geiger Index, a reliable, emotion-free guide to making big money and avoiding losses, and Strike Force, which aims to get in, target gains, and get out clean. In his weekly Total Wealth, Keith has broken down his 30-plus years of success into three parts: Trends, Risk Assessment, and Tactics – meaning the exact techniques for making money. Sign up is free at totalwealthresearch.com.

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  1. buffalokandravi@aol.com | October 12, 2012

    Bluebird is a step ahead and possible a step to come with a slip but it is a lawyers XMAS and where it finally ends up will take time, one of the smartest hardest and politically tactful person who as one would say left a whole the size of TX., lived off of being fined in the billions and said there is nothing better than getting fined and still having the profits ad up. The most cheapest way to get att. is the fine and the best part is paying it with the money you made from paying the fine.Everyone disliked him almost but they all respected him. There are a lot of roads in this country and a lot of bigger companies than this one, and an amount of people tried to beat him join him kiss up to him and every tactic failed. The kind of man that could pick up the phone and who ever he was calling would never forget to call him back the same day never, so if he called you got that message that he called it was # 1 on your list to call him back or call your advisers and then call him asap that same day, the funny thing is he went to bed at 8:PM Central time and would be eating breakfast everyday at 4:00 AM Central time with his whole team, he did all the talking all of it and you did not deviate from it one bit. Somehow he remained his own Rockefeller in his own state and wanted nothing more, there was not a road that was built in Texas that no matter what if he wanted to build that road you would never underbid him for the contract, he would pay the Govt. to build it simply put and many tried to take him on the largest const. Federally funded, State funded did not matter it was his state. If you worked for him and I do not care how high you where up the ladder if you pulled up to a job site you better have your hard hat on or you where fired no questions or I forgot and put it on as soon as I got out of the truck to late you where gone, done, fired and even if you thought no one saw you , you better fire yourself and call him and say Ifired myself and he would say good job and good luck, see you down the road, I did not say months or years they did not come back and start from the bottom and work your way up, that was it. Think about it total control even if he was not there to see it total respect and do not be late for breakfast EVEN IF THERE WAS AN EARTHQUAKE DO NOT MISS BREAKFAST.
    I WOULD LOVE TO SEE HOW STRONG THIS COUNTRY WOULD BE IF HE RAN IT FOR JUST 1 WEEK. I AM SURE A LOT OF DIRT THAT THE SUPER WAL-MARTS WHERE BUILT ON CAME FROM HIS ROAD WORK BECAUSE YOU COULD BUILD A WAL-MART BUT IF HE DID NOT WANT A ROAD TO IT YOU WOULD HAVE TO WALK. SOUNDS LIKE BLUEBIRD CAN NOT WAIT FOR THE FINE TO MAKE THE FINE PAYMENT AND POCKET THE REST, TO LOOSE TO WIN, VERY LONG WINDED BUT EVERY WORD WAS A FACT. WHATEVER HE SAID HAPPENED AND NEVER ON SCHEDULE ON OR UNDER BUDGET AND WAS AND STILL THE FOOT PRINTS HE MADE ARE LIKE THE FOOT PRINTS THE USA SHOULD MAKE AND THE REST OF THE WORLD WOULD NEVER BURN A USA FLAG, SOUNDS MEAN BUT IF YOU ARE STRONG AND KEPT IT THAT WAY THERE WOULD BE NO AIRPORT SECURITY , YOU COULD GO AND WAIT TO MEET FAMILY AND FRIENDS OR WHEN THEY LEFT YOU COULD WALK THEM TO THE GATE. THAT IS WHAT THE GATE UPSTAIRS IS LIKE THE PEARLS ARE THE AMMUNITION THAT IS ALL YOU NEEDED. HE IS REAL STRONG AND SEE'S ALL THAT IS WHY YOU WOULD FIRE YOURSELF BECAUSE OF THE INTEGRITY THAT WAS BUILT IN AND THEN THE SNAKE CAME ALONG AND IT IS CONSTRICTING US AND WILL CONTINUE WHEN YOU DO NOT HAVE A BUDGET SO YOU JUST MAKE MONEY OFF THE FINE AND LOTS OF IT. HIS FIRST NAME WAS DOUG IT SHOULD BE THE ONLY NAME LIKE THAT IF YOU GOOGLE IT BUT YOU WOULD HAVE TO WAIT FOR THE FINE AND HE LOVED PAYING THOSE MILLION DOLLAR A DAY LATE FINES.

  2. DMC | October 12, 2012

    Yeah, I see the author's concern with this kind of transaction being unregulated by the all-knowing Government–I mean, Wal-Mart could get itself hooked on these transactions and then start charging itself 5 to 10 times the normal going rate. I mean, think of how much Wal-Wart would be forced to raise its prices so it could afford to pay itself these fees.

    Or, in the alternative, it could actually do a reverse, and actually pay customers the money it saves if you use their card. You know, the same way gas stations charge less if you pay them with cash. Imagine the carnage to our economy if Wal-Mart wound up charging us less!

    Seriously, stop the "chicken little" routine. The lack of Governmental regulations in this area is so much a non-issue even the author couldn't come up with a hypothetical reason why this is bad–except of course the fact that banks won't get to siphon billions out of the American Consumer pockets when they shop at Wal-Mart.

    And frankly, I think that is a good thing.

  3. orogers | October 12, 2012

    The origin of the still with us financial crisis was congress and Washington political correctness. If you force banks to lend to people who can never repay the money, do it long enough,and play politics at the Washington level then you eventually get the kind of crisis we now have.

    There are sensible regulations and then there are Washington ones. Right now I trust Wal-Mart and American Express way more than anything who's origin was from either Dodd or Frank.

  4. 000034889611 | October 12, 2012

    I can see both the pros and cons, but it's American capitalism at its best. Walmart will save millions, or should I say, make millions. Now, whether this will be reflected in their prices at the local store remains to be seen. If they choose to keep the profits without lowering prices, this increases their bottom line. Or, they could choose to lower their pricing even further to balance out the fees they were paying the big banks thus, driving more of their competitors out of business. It's an interesting scenario and, I guess we shall see how it plays out. But either way, it will definitely not hurt their stock. If anything, I see it as a great opportunity.

  5. Buddie David | October 12, 2012

    The Bluebird deal looks to me like a great way for consumers, to have more credit card debt. Thats just what we need more bad debts.For taxpayers to pick up. a slick way to bypase laws and regulations.

    • Counting Ace | October 12, 2012

      Good gawd! Follow along, dummy. The card is a PRE-PAID card. It is basically a checking account on a piece of plastic. Many companies issue them….called pay cards. Wal-Mart is simply trying to cut out the middle man (banks) and lower costs. This has nothing to do with "credit card debt."

  6. Sane Canadian | October 12, 2012

    Sounds to me like Wal mart has figured out another way to supply something to Joe Average which is of good value for less money. It's consistent with their business model. Why would anyone suggest that they're going to creep their prices up down the road? Right now, everyone else is criticisizing them for selling too low. They've "destroyed" main street America by coming into town and offering consumers everything they want, need, and more, for way less money that what they used to have to pay for it. Capitalism in its finest form. I guess just not when you're a competitor on the losing end of that game. Then it's just "boo-hoo, no fair". So, it seems that now, it's not just main street Anytown, USA retailer that's affected – it's Big Banking. Good. Let them feel what it's like to have to compete on price for a change. America is NOT supposed to have monopolies. If one of their competitors is getting in the game by undercutting the conspiratorially derived usurious fees that have been the norm, that sounds like good news for consumers. Maybe other retailers and financial institutions will hop on that bandwagon and force the big boys to cool it with their punishing fees. If there is another "financial crisis", it would serve some of these evil criminals to go down hard for good. maybe that will kick off the shakeout coming for the next inevitable round of carnage on the horizon, after QE3 quickly runs out of steam. What's good for the goose should be good for the gander. The days of mafia inspired banking practices need to come to an end.

  7. Mike | October 12, 2012

    Not mentioned is who gets the interest on the cash used to fund the prepaid card, and secondly what fees are charged and to whom when a user uses the card at places other than WalMart. Today the interest is minimal but that will change as inflation sets in. Is the consumer deposit covered by FDIC? Is the taxpayer on the hook again?

  8. Roy Henderson | October 12, 2012

    Keith, Innovation such as this between WalMart and AMEX is the essence of the "American System" and it is hard to imagine how Bluebird will harm customers. I am a former MASTERCARD board member and it has been clear from the beginnings of the industry that interchange pricing – credit or debit – has never been subjected to truly competitive market forces, it has been tightly controlled by the networks and has been an excessively profitable Cash Cow for Banks for decades. Excess profits attract competitors and in the end the customer wins. We should expect that others will try initiatives similar to Bluebird. Good for them!

    • Counting Ace | October 12, 2012

      Thank you for the insight, Roy. I have been on the negogiating end of the fees. Bottom line…this fee is not negotiable. Wal-Mart is busting up a duopoly. Time to short V and MC?

    • Sane Canadian | October 12, 2012

      Roy Henderson's response is what I was trying to say, except he is much more eloquent than I am.

  9. erich kellner | October 12, 2012

    I fail to see the "danger". Customers must evaluate and choose what fits them best and accept responsibility for their choice. We don't want any more intrusion of big brother than we already have. It is killing the golden goose that was America.
    When you overspend don't blame the bank that send you a credit card. The problem is you.

  10. doink | October 12, 2012

    As one who likes to spend cash I have become one of the many losers. Not using but having to pay the included fees written into the retail pricing (2.99 – 3.41 %) we cash spenders are really getting ripped. In many countries these fees are added at the checkout if you use plastic. So if I am not bought into these mafia (a piece of every deal whether warranted or not) companies then you may forgive me if I applaude the bluebird deal. What is good for Joe American is inevidably good for everyone.

  11. Dave Truitt | October 13, 2012

    IT'S A WIN,WIN FOR EVERYONE.NEXT WE WILL SEE THEM OFFER PRE PAID, INTEREST, SIMULAR AND COMPETITIVE WITH MONEY MARKET ACCOUNTS.IF THEY COULD CONSOLIDATE ALL REWARDS POINTS INTO ONE ACCOUNT THEY HAVE A HOME RUN(SEPARATE ISSUE).

  12. Steve | October 14, 2012

    Banks would lose profits, but force them to raise interest rates which in turn would help the bond market. Downside would be interests rates on housing raising preventing maybe another housing bubble in the future, which is doubtful if we have a rush on home buying due to the economy now. I think this is a good move by Walmart. Why should the rich banks have their fingers in everything ? Lets lower that playing field, but with some regulation so businesses following suit will not start to act like banks and start raising the rates for the Bluebird card.

  13. Travis Tibbetts | October 14, 2012

    Keith, sir, taking advantage of something not specified in regulation does not imply malfeasance. If it isn't in the regulation, then it is okay. I love what Walmart and American Express are doing. This is a disruptive innovation and something that is part of a free market! They are essentially using the free market to do what Dodd Frank tried to do with burdensome legislation that has had negative effects on the consumer and the banking industry as well.
    Why don't we champion innovation in this country anymore? Instead of wringing our hands because somebody has come up with an idea to live the American dream.

  14. justEd | October 30, 2012

    ole wallyworld just beat 'em at thier own game ,AGAIN! aint it great? never heard of walmart execs gettin' million $ bonuses on the six o'clock news,or gettin; bailed out by the sheeple, I think it's a great alternative for joes like me

  15. Xennex1170 | October 31, 2012

    I guess nothing is stopping Amazon.com from doing something similar.

  16. JD | November 1, 2012

    It was thinking about trying this service, but decided not to. I have no problem with Walmart overall. It's Am Ex I dis-trust. They are just money grubbing jerks. They've been hounding consumers over debts too hard. Many times these debts were for a few hundred dollars, or into the thousands. These
    people were willing to work with Am Ex to pay off their debts. But Am Ex wouldn't work fairly with them. In short Am Ex is a piss-poor company to deal with.

    If VISA or Mastercard was the partner this service would be more reliable.

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