If we had to pick one brand to represent the values of the Occupy movement — or more broadly, America's disdain for big banks — Walmart would definitely not be it. But The New York Times is now calling Walmart and its burgeoning Money Center business a "surprising beneficiary" of Americans' collective rage against Wall Street.
The article's timing was prescient: just a few hours after it appeared online, Bank of America agreed to a $410 million settlement with customers disgruntled by exorbitant overdraft fees. There were also reports of Bank of America employees running for the doors as the company prepares to lay off 10 percent of its work force.
Is the Walmart model is the better way to go? At face value, the proposition makes sense. Andrew Martin and Stephanie Clifford report:
Even before the recent outcry against banks, the services had become popular with cash-poor customers, many of whom never had a bank account and found the services more affordable than traditional check-cashing operations. Now newcomers to the ranks of the banking disaffected are helping to swell the numbers, Wal-Mart officials said.
For the increasing number of Americans living paycheck-to-paycheck, Walmart offers the basic banking services for a cheaper rate (watch for falling prices!) and, more importantly, without the risk of unexpected charges like overdraft fees. Cashing a paycheck at the Money Center costs only $3. For an additional $3 flat fee, Walmart will put the money onto a prepaid debit card. The Times quoted one Money Center customer, who had switched to Walmart after being slapped with a $400 overdraft fee. "I always come here," she said. "I don't like banks anymore."