The list of things you can get at Wal-Mart is about to get longer as the world’s biggest retailer plans to roll out everyday low prices on checking accounts.
Wal-Marts across the country will stand in as bank branches for GoBank, the mobile banking platform backed by Green Dot Bank. Starting in October, consumers can head to the big-box retailer to sign up for or deposit cash into a GoBank account, giving the smartphone-based bank an advantage over competitors such as Simple and Moven.
The partnership offers Wal-Mart yet another opportunity to become one of the largest financial services providers in the nation, without many of the regulatory headaches that plague traditional banks. Wal-Mart already offers a prepaid debit card, credit card, check cashing and money transfers. The retailer is even a part of a consortium that is building a mobile payment system that limits the role of banks.
What gives Wal-Mart an edge in financial services is its massive customer base, with hundreds of millions of people visiting its stores every week. That consumer advantage could significantly boost GoBank’s membership.
GoBank, which launched in 2013, promotes itself as an alternative to traditional bank accounts, with no overdraft or minimum balance. Membership costs $8.95 a month, but can be waived for customers with direct deposit of at least $500 a month.
It costs $2.95 to buy a starter kit, which comes with a temporary debit card for use until a personalized card arrives in the mail. GoBank customers can withdraw money from a network of 42,000 ATMs at no cost, but will be hit with a $2.50 fee for stepping out of network. The debit card can be used wherever MasterCard is accepted, Wal-Mart officials said.
“Our customers really don’t feel they are getting a great value from traditional services, particularly checking accounts,” Daniel Eckert, vice president of financial services for Wal-Mart U.S., said in an interview. “Adding GoBank gives our customers another option to better manage their money, without the unnecessary complexity and sky-high fees of other accounts.”
Although Eckert said GoBank has broad appeal beyond people with limited or no access to banks, the account could be attractive to those who have been pushed out of the banking system because of past financial transgression. GoBank, unlike other mobile and traditional banks, will not use the ChexSystems database to review would-be customers.
Thousands of banks and credit unions screen would-be customers through databases such as ChexSystems that document repeated overdrafts, bounced checks, unpaid balances and other behavior that could signal fraud. Authorities have accused institutions of using these databases to bar people who have had even brief money troubles from getting accounts.
Green Dot uses an in-house system to screen GoBank customers for a history of fraud and to verify their identity.
“You still have an obligation to make sure the bank has honest and legitimate customers, but we’re not relying on bureaus that stack the cards against everyday working Americans,” Steve Streit, founder and chief executive of Green Dot, said in an interview.
Streit anticipates that a majority of GoBank’s customers will still primarily use their smartphones to conduct transactions, although they now have the convenience of stopping at Wal-Mart to deposit cash into their accounts, something people can’t do using a smartphone.
Smartphones have become the center of financial services as companies latch onto technology that could help them reach millions of people at a fraction of the cost of traditional banking.
It costs banks about $1.34 for tellers to process a transaction in a branch, while the same transaction on a smartphone costs one-tenth of that amount, according to CEB Tower Group. Wal-Mart has an established network of stores and can provide GoBank services alongside all of its other financial products, keeping its expenses to a minimum.
Wal-Mart and Green Dot will make money off of interchange, the fee merchants pay when people buy goods with plastic. The companies would not say whether this partnership will eventually lead to an expansion into lending. Since Green Dot has a bank charter, the move would not be a huge hurdle to clear.