|DEBIT, CHECKING, PREPAID: More on the Amex/Walmart prepaid card|
Walmart and American Express launched Bluebird, what they call an alternative to debit and checking accounts designed to help consumers better manage and control their everyday finances. According to the two companies, Bluebird has been developed for the tens of millions of Americans who are looking for advanced capabilities such as deposits by smartphone and mobile bill pay, fee transparency, and no minimum balance, monthly, annual, or overdraft fees. Bluebird will be available soon online at www.bluebird.com and in more than 4,000 Walmart stores.
In a separate announcement, Walmart launched what it calls an affordable and convenient way for customers to load money onto prepaid cards with Rapid Reload, a new service that will accept reloadable cards affiliated with the Green Dot Network, InComm's Vanilla Reload Network, and First Data's Money Network.
According to a recent study by Mercator Advisory Group, 56 million Americans have a prepaid or payroll card. Rapid Reload is a savings for these consumers who have been paying up to $5 to add cash to their cards.
"Many of our customers continue to seek alternatives that improve both the convenience and cost of every day financial services," says Eckert. "Through our partnerships with Green Dot, InComm, and First Data, we are ensuring that the majority of prepaid cards available in the United States can be reloaded at Walmart. This is another way we're providing millions of Americans with affordable ways to manage their money."
Walmart will now accept individually branded cards such as Account Now, Achieve Card, H&R Block, Momentum, Money Network, MyVanilla, NetSpend, PayPal, Rush Card, and Upside. Walmart's MoneyCard will remain available for $3.
Regarding Bluebird, building on a pilot program launched in late 2011, Bluebird was shaped by feedback from consumers who said they were not getting the value they expect from traditional checking account and debit services because of increasingly higher fees. According to an independent study by Bretton Woods, consumers now pay an average of $259 per year for a basic checking account and that cost is rising due to higher minimum balance requirements and a growing list of fees being added to these services.
"Our customers tell us that they're tired of navigating a complex maze of dos and don'ts to avoid the ever growing list of fees found on checking products. Bluebird solves this problem and we believe it's the best product on the market to help customers affordably manage their everyday finances," says Daniel Eckert, vice president of financial services for Walmart U.S. "At Walmart, we are always looking for ways to make a difference by using the strengths that come with our size, scale and reach to take on the challenges that matter most to our customers. Reducing the costs and frustration that come with high fees is one of these issues."
"The financial services landscape is changing. Technological advances, regulatory changes, and evolving consumer needs are redefining payments ranging from prepaid, to checking and debit. Bluebird is our solution to help consumers who currently may be poorly served by traditional banking products. It allows them to easily and safely move, manage, and spend their money. In an era where it is increasingly expensive to be poor, we have worked with Walmart to create a financial services product that rights many of the wrongs that plague the market today," says Dan Schulman, group president, Enterprise Growth, American Express.
The companies say Bluebird merges capabilities found in the payments, technology, and financial services space and packages it into something that provides consumers with simple and convenient access to their funds so they can manage and streamline their money management.
Bluebird members can deposit money in a variety of ways including payroll direct deposit, remote check capture via the Bluebird mobile app, using cash at any Walmart register, or by linking a checking, savings, or debit card to the account. Members can also set up alerts and controls to manage their account, use their Bluebird card at millions of locations that accept American Express Cards and enjoy access to benefits such as Purchase Protection, Roadside Assistance, Global Assist Services, fraud protection in the event the Card is lost or stolen, and 24x7 customer service. If a customer's Bluebird card is ever lost or stolen, funds stay protected at American Express, and the card is replaced at no charge.
Bluebird allows consumers to also enjoy the functionality of a digital wallet, including person to person payments, mobile app functionality, and the ability to control subaccounts for friends and family right from a smartphone. Bluebird is built upon the digital payment capabilities of American Express' Serve platform.
Bluebird customers can get access to cash at a network of more than 22,000 MoneyPass ATMs nationwide. Cash access through MoneyPass' network is fee free and surcharge free for Bluebird customers enrolled in direct deposit. For customers not enrolled in direct deposit, each MoneyPass ATM withdrawal is just $2. For out-of-network ATMs, each withdrawal is also $2, though additional ATM operator fees apply.
In the first quarter of 2013, Bluebird will be adding additional features, such as more options to deposit money and check-writing capabilities.
Consumers can sign-up for free on Bluebird.com, or choose to buy a $5 account set up kit at a local Walmart for immediate use (with limited functionality). The set up kit includes a starter card, which can be funded with cash or a debit card at the register with any dollar amount between $1 and $500. Once funded, the starter card can be used immediately anywhere in the United States where American Express Cards are accepted. Customers must then complete their account set up at bluebird.com in order to access the full features and benefits of Bluebird, as well as receive their personalized Bluebird card.
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