Bluebird, the new checking account and debit card alternative from Walmart and American Express, may have a number of features that consumers may find attractive, but it also lacks one that consumers may consider crucial.
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Money deposited on Bluebird cards will not carry FDIC insurance, according to an executive with American Express.
When asked directly by a reporter in an Oct. 9 webcast and conference call whether funds deposited on Bluebird would carry FDIC insurance Dan Schulman, group president of enterprise growth for American Express, appeared to duck the question.
He said only that funds deposited with Bluebird would be subject to money transmittal regulations in all 50 states that required American Express to back them 100%.
Neither Walmart nor American Express have yet responded to questions about whether the lack of FDIC insurance might hurt Bluebird with consumers or whether the companies might seek FDIC insurance for funds placed with their new service.
Although more recent data is difficult to track down, a 2001 survey conducted by Gallup on behalf of the Independent Community Bankers of America found that 57% of consumers surveyed considered having FDIC insurance an important factor when deciding where to place their funds.
The question is also significant because Walmart’s 2007 effort to obtain a federal bank charter to make loans and take deposits insured by the FDIC failed in the face of withering opposition from banks and some credit unions.