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Walmart Creates Money Centers To Undercut Big Banks

Posted by Dale Buss on November 10, 2011 04:13 PM

Walmart has been trying to return to its roots as purveyor of a huge variety of goods, merchandised in a charmingly busy way, at the reliably lowest prices. Now the world's largest retailer may benefit from applying the same sort of approach to one of its newest areas of endeavor: financial services.

This may cause some cognitive dissonance for the Occupy Wall Street crowd, which surely is populated with many Walmart haters as well as Wall Street haters. But it turns out that Walmart is coming to the rescue of ordinary Americans with low-fee check-cashing services that undercut the huge debit-card and other fees being layered on by banks -- much to the chagrin of the protesters and many other Americans.

Long ago, Walmart tried to obtain a federal charter for a bank, but withdrew in the face of opposition by the banking industry and lawmakers. So instead, its Money Centers have resorted to putting together a menu of a la carte services to appeal to the vast numbers of "unbanked" and "unhappily banked" Americans.

"We have a tremendous opportunity ahead of us, and it's largely due to what you're seeing around us happen in the industry," Daniel Eckert, the head of Wal-Mart Financial Services, told the New York Times. "We're not a bank, but we can serve a lot of types of functions you would see someone go into a bank for."

And interestingly, the chain's aggressive push into financial services has already produced reactions among that parallel those from local retailers during its nationwide expansion over the last quarter-century. Not only are big banks taking notice but so are small, independent banks in the communities where Walmarts are becoming fixtures. It's reminiscent of the hue and cry that went up from independent merchants in towns across the United States that were, one by one, targeted by Walmart.

Walmart may be down a bit lately in terms of its U.S. performance, but it will never be irrelevant. Just ask Occupy Wall Street.

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