Walmart & American Express Launch “Bluebird” An Alternative to Traditional Checking Accounts

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Walmart and American Express today announced Bluebird, an alternative to traditional debit and checking accounts. The new service, which features deposits by smartphone and mobile bill pay, fee transparency, and no minimum balance, monthly, annual or overdraft fees, will be available next week online at www.bluebird.com and in more than 4,000 Walmart stores.

“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,” said 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.”

(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.)

Bluebird members can deposit money through 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.

Customers have access to cash withdrawals 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 $2.  For out-of-network ATMs, each withdrawal is also $2, though additional ATM operator fees apply.

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 have access to benefits such as Purchase Protection, Roadside Assistance, Global Assist Services, fraud protection in the event the Card is lost or stolen and 24/7 customer service. If a customer’s Bluebird card is lost or stolen, funds stay protected at American Express, and the card is replaced at no charge.

The service, built on the digital payment capabilities of American Express’ Serve platform, offers digital wallet capabilities, including person to person (P2P) payments, mobile app functionality, and the ability to control subaccounts for friends and family from a smartphone.

Consumers can sign-up for free on Bluebird.com, or 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.

Bluebird will be adding additional features, such as more options to deposit money and check-writing capabilities in 2013.