Wal-Mart’s move into banking may seem odd, but if the behemoth is looking to serve its customers, bank accounts are a natural product. There are more Wal-Mart stores in areas where a higher percentage of the population is unbanked< — that is, without a checking or saving account. According to the most recent National Survey of Unbanked and Underbanked Households, conducted by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC) in 2011, an estimated 8.2 percent of U.S. households are unbanked, or about 10 million households.
For years, big retailers smelling opportunity have been trying to figure out ways to offer banking services to low-income people as a way of boosting in-store sales. Walmart has been pushing hard to get into the banking business, but the retail goliath has been held back from obtaining a U.S. bank charter by a combination of banking industry players, union leaders, activists, political opponents, and experts who have warned that allowing Walmart to bank is a dangerous abandonment of the separation of banking from other forms of commerce, and that it opens the door to too-big-to-fail issues and potential taxpayer bailouts.