American Express and Walmart announced today the nationwide launch of the Bluebird prepaid debit card, and it is exactly as momentous as they make it out to be. Whereas traditional prepaid debit cards were characterized by a-la-carte pricing that could easily cost more than a checking account’s monthly fees, the Bluebird offers a way to deposit and access cash without bleeding fees.
How does the Bluebird compare to “old guard” offers?
The Bluebird has a much lighter fee structure than even the more affordable traditional cards:
|Card||Bluebird||Green Dot Card||Walmart MoneyCard|
|Cash Reload||$0 at Walmart||$4.95 with MoneyPak||$3 at Walmart|
|Has ATM network?†||Yes – MoneyPass Network|
* Waived by loading $1,000+ per month (or, for Green Dot, making 30+ transactions per month)
**Waived with direct deposit
†An ATM network allows the cardholder to avoid surcharges of $2 or more, that are often excluded from cost calculations.
The Bluebird is more affordable than even the new, bank-issued prepaid cards, for those with direct deposit:
|Card||Bluebird||U.S. Bank Convenient Cash||Chase Liquid||BB&T Money-Account|
* Lowered to $3 with $1,000+ load/direct deposit
**First 2 calls per month are free
***$2.95 for in-person call, $0.50 for automated call. First in-person and first automated call per month are free.
Note, however, that the Bluebird is not FDIC-insured: if Amex were to go under, you’d lose your funds.
For dynamic comparisons of the Bluebird and 70 more cards, please visit http://www.nerdwallet.com/prepaid.
Why American Express offers the Bluebird
As NetSpend CEO Dan Henry said in an earnings call, most prepaid cardholders are willing to pay high fees:
I spend a lot of time talking to many of my colleagues in the industry, either be it in the prepaid industry or just in dealings with these low to moderate income consumers…we don’t find a lot of price sensitivity to this product…we have tested free many times…It doesn’t drive incremental volume.
– NetSpend 2Q11 earnings call
But the American Express-Walmart partnership has the possibility to generate revenue beyond simply collecting fees:
- Cash loads are free at Walmart stores, driving traffic and potentially increasing in-store sales.
- Walmart provides American Express the opportunity to get in front of a new customer base.
- American Express earns revenue from interchange fees, assessed on a merchant every time a customer uses plastic.
In the same way that the Chase Liquid, U.S. Bank Conventent Cash and BB&T MoneyAccount cards are able to offer lower fees to attract new customers and draw existing customers away from high-cost checking accounts, American Express and Walmart are able to leverage non-traditional revenue structures to offer a more affordable product.
Dan Henry, CEO of NetSpend: “One of our largest retail distributors today, AGB, charges no reload fee at all. And they do that not, of course, out of the goodness of their heart but based on sound empirical evidence that people go into reload in an AGB spend more than other customers in AGB. And we think it’s inevitable that other like merchants will draw a similar conclusion as they learn more about the product category.” – Netspend 2Q2012 earnings call