Wal-Mart introduces money-transfer service


Wal-Mart is launching a new domestic money transfer service called "Walmart-2-Walmart" to compete directly with Western Union. (John Gress/Reuters)

Wal-Mart introduced its own money-transfer service Thursday, moving one step closer to becoming one of the biggest financial services providers in the nation.

The service, called Walmart-2-Walmart, allows customers to transfer funds between any of its 4,000 U.S. locations, enabling the big-box retailer to claim a cut of the market now served by Western Union and MoneyGram.

The recipient can access the money with a personal identification number. Wal-Mart will charge $4.50 for any transaction under $50 and $9.50 for larger transfers up to $900. That’s substantially cheaper than MoneyGram, which has branches inside Wal-Mart stores across the country.

“We are leveraging our size and our scale to make a difference for our customers,” Daniel Eckert, vice president of financial services for Wal-Mart U.S., said in a call with reporters.

Officials at Wal-Mart say the new service will have broad appeal among the “unbanked” and “underbanked,” the 28 percent of Americans with limited or no access to the traditional banking system. That population tends to use alternative financial firms such as check cashers that also offer bill pay and money order services. Over the years, Wal-Mart has tried to siphon off those customers by providing the same products at lower rates.

“Walmart-2-Walmart is really an extension of our broad assortment of everyday financial services that we offer to our customers,” Eckert said. “This is about providing those everyday financial services for less and making sure that they can save a little here and there.”

The company broadened its reach two years ago with the introduction of Bluebird, a prepaid American Express card that functions like a bank account. Wal-Mart aimed the card squarely at customers of the banking industry, which has fought vigorously to keep the retailer from obtaining a bank charter.

Company executives have said Wal-Mart is no longer interested in delving into banking, especially when its current strategy affords many of the same benefits without the regulatory headaches. Indeed, the retailer capped the transfer amount at $900 to avoid triggering regulations that require companies to file activity reports.

“By capping the amount at $900, we could reduce some of the additional complexities that come with sending and receiving money in the U.S.,” Eckert said. “If you could structure your service in a way to operate for less at a certain break point, it allows us to provide a simple and straightforward architecture at an everyday low price.”

Walmart-2-Walmart will be available starting next Thursday. The company, despite its global reach, will limit the service to the United States. Ria, a subsidiary of Euronet, is the licensed money-transfer operator for Wal-Mart transactions.

Danielle Douglas covers the banking industry for The Washington Post.
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