NEW YORK — Wal-Mart is delving deeper into financial services at its stores and shaking up the money-transfer business.
The world's largest retailer introduced a money-transfer service Thursday that it says will cut fees for its low-income customers by up to 50 percent compared with similar services offered elsewhere. The Walmart-2-Walmart service is being rolled out in partnership with Ria Money Transfer, a subsidiary of Euronet Worldwide.
The service, which will be available starting next Thursday, allows its customers to transfer up to $900 to and from more than 4,000 Walmart stores in the United States.
It's a huge footprint that could reshape that industry and is likely to set off a pricing battle.
Customers can transfer up to $50 for a $4.50 service fee and up to $900 for $9.50. Comparable services elsewhere cost up to $70 when transferring less than $1,000, according to Wal-Mart.
On its website, Western Union puts the price of transferring $900 in New York between $20, if using a bank account, and $85 if using a credit or debit card.
Wal-Mart's announcement is the latest way it's acting more like a bank. About a decade ago, Wal-Mart applied unsuccessfully for an industrial bank charter. Those efforts were blocked even though the retailer vowed it would not open retail branches but wanted to use its bank to process card transactions. In 2007, it abandoned those plans, but it has been creating an expanding menu of financial offerings for customers, aimed particularly at those with limited access to banks. Wal-Mart already offers prepaid cards, check-cashing services and tax-preparation services.
Wal-Mart is aggressively trying to increase foot traffic in its stores after seeing comparable-store sales decline for four consecutive quarters. The Walmart-2-Walmart service may help stem that trend, giving customers another reason to spend more time inside Walmart.
Daniel Eckert, Wal-Mart's senior vice president of services, said that the move into the money transfer business gained momentum after company officials heard complaints from customers about high fees elsewhere. "Walmart-2-Walmart brings new competition and transparent, everyday low prices to a market that has become complicated and costly for our customers," he said.
According to a 2011 study conducted by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., 29 percent of U.S. households do not have a savings account, while about 10 percent do not have a checking account.