Serve Adds Walmart to Free Cash-Reload Network, Kicks Off TV Campaign (April 21, 2014)
American Express today announced it’s adding Walmart as a distribution and reload partner for its Serve digital prepaid account, and this week will kick off its first TV commercials for the product. Adding Walmart’s 4,100 U.S. stores to those of CVS and participating 7-Eleven creates the nation’s largest free cash-reload network for a prepaid product, spanning 19,500 urban and suburban locations across the U.S., according to analysts. “With Walmart, we’re definitively ahead of other players in the size of our free cash reload network, giving us a really broad reach to all consumers,” Stefan Happ, general manager, U.S. Payment Options at American Express, tells Paybefore.
Walmart is selling Serve alongside Bluebird by American Express, a bank alternative it launched in partnership with Walmart in 2012. Bluebird, sold at Walmart for $5.00 with free cash reloads available there only, has no monthly fee and targets “unhappily banked” customers who may have a bank account but are unsatisfied with it, according to Happ.
Serve, initially launched in 2011 with narrower features and reach than the product offers today, and relaunched last year, targets consumers that typically are outside of the banking system, Happ notes. Serve and Bluebird have certain similarities, but pricing and fees vary. Serve carries a $1 monthly fee that is waived during any month customers use direct deposit or add at least $500 to their account. Cardholders who sign up for the ISIS mobile wallet also pay no monthly fee. One key difference: Serve does not support preauthorized check-writing, but Bluebird does. “Serve and Bluebird serve different purposes for different customers,” Happ explains.
Walmart sells Serve for $1.95. Other retailers selling Serve include CVS, which prices it at $2.95; Walgreens, Duane Reade, Office Depot, Family Dollar, Fred’s Super Dollar and Sheetz also sell Serve. (7-Eleven does not.) Retail price points of all American Express prepaid cards are determined by the merchant, Happ notes. Customers also may sign up for Serve online. Cardholders may add money to Serve via Green Dot MoneyPak, Incomm Vanilla Reload, or they may add cash for free at the register at Walmart, CVS and 7-Eleven.
Documentary filmmaker Todd Krolczyk created Serve’s TV commercials, centering on vignettes of prospective customers describing different financial situations. Print and radio ads support the effort. American Express separately plans to release a documentary this summer from filmmaker Davis Guggenheim called “Spent: Looking for Change,” spotlighting some of the 50 million to 70 million Americans it says are poorly served or excluded from the financial mainstream.