Traditionally, we’ve talked about Amazon, Google, Apple, and Meta (formerly known as Facebook) as big tech companies with the potential to rise up as competitors in the banking and fintech space. However, there is one giant that is worth adding to this list– Walmart.
Walmart is not a fintech company, or even a tech company, it’s a retail firm. Or at least that’s what it was when Sam Walton founded it in 1962. But what does Walmart’s future look like? The company has made it clear that it will not only begin offering financial services, but will also evolve into a super app. On examining the company’s ambitions, it appears that Walmart may have what it takes to ascend as a competitor in the fintech space.
Below are five aspects of Walmart to consider when evaluating it as a potential competitor.
As one of the most recognizable brands across the globe, Walmart comes with a large, built-in user base. The company sees 265 million customers worldwide each week, and many of those shoppers seek out Walmart as their primary retailer. Walmart+, the company’s $99 annual subscription service, counts 32 million members.
Once Walmart begins its formal foray into financial services in earnest, it will certainly not count all 32 million members as users right away. However, having a built-in, captive audience will help jump-start its user base and will lower customer acquisition costs.
In both retail and financial services sectors, rewards create stickiness. As one of the oldest retail companies, Walmart has figured this out. Leveraging a partnership with Ibotta Performance Network, Walmart recently launched Walmart Rewards, a way for Walmart+ members to earn additional savings toward their future purchases at Walmart.
Earlier this month, Bloomberg unveiled that Walmart plans to launch a digital bank account to serve its shoppers and 1.6 million employees. While no specific details have been released, it is clear that the digital bank will stem from One, which Walmart acquired in early 2022. One is a neobank that offers a debit card and boasts non-traditional products and services such as earned wage access, fee-free overdraft protection, and digital wallet integration.
Currently, One relies on Coastal Community Bank to provide banking services. It is not clear whether Walmart will continue to use that model, or if it will seek its own banking license. Walmart initially pursued a banking license in 2005. After two years, the company withdrew its application after receiving opposition from bankers and other credit institutions. Given hurdles involved in earning a banking license, my guess is that Walmart will rely on its relationship with a traditional bank like Coastal Community Bank.
For more clues into Walmart’s banking ambitions, I checked out job advertisements on LinkedIn. Walmart is currently hiring for a range of positions within its financial services arm. “We are starting some exciting ventures as we expand our financial services in various ways to engage and provide capabilities to our customers,” one of the job descriptions states.
Walmart has 11,501 physical retail stores across the globe. The largest U.S. bank, JP Morgan Chase, has fewer than half that number at around 5,080 physical bank branches. And for customers who are not into doing business IRL, Walmart has them covered, as well. The company just launched Walmart Land, a new immersive experience in Roblox.
If Walmart truly wants to become a large competitor in the financial services world, it already has more than enough physical infrastructure to do so.
Part of why this matters isn’t the sheer number of physical locations or square footage. Having these physical stores will impact who Walmart is able to serve, just as much as it will impact how many people it is able to serve. That’s because Walmart stores are typically located in rural and suburban areas– in other words, Walmart stores are close to non-urban customers who may not rely on their mobile devices as much as city dwellers, and therefore may not be comfortable maintaining an account at a digital-only bank. No smartphone? No problem, just drive down to Walmart and open up an account.
The term “super app” is used quite lightly in the fintech sector these days. However, Walmart is one of the few firms in the U.S. with the potential to evolve into a true super app. In a piece published earlier this year, Chief Research Officer at Cornerstone Advisors Ron Shevlin summarized Walmart’s potential as a super app. “Walmart’s DNA is efficiency and cost control—and that’s the ultimate promise of a super app for the supercenter,” said Shevlin.
Currently, the company’s app offers Walmart+ subscribers online grocery and retail shopping with free shipping; access to Scan & Go, a tool that enables shoppers to scan barcodes as they shop, pay with their phone using their card on file, and scan a QR code at the cash register before they exit the store. Subscribers also benefit from discounts of up to 10 cents off per gallon of fuel at 14,000 gas stations; and free access to stream movies and shows at Paramount+.
As it stands, Walmart’s app with the above services does not constitute a super app. In a blog post last year, I detailed a list of ten elements required for a super app. Here is what Walmart has and where it needs improvement:
- Ecommerce: currently offers
- Health services: currently offers vaccination services and provides medical care at locations in four U.S. states.
- Food delivery: currently offers grocery delivery, but not prepared food delivery
- Transportation services: currently offers fuel discounts and in-app fuel payments
- Personal finance: does not offer, but is actively working on plans to do so
- Travel services: does not offer
- Billpay: does not offer
- Insurance: does not offer
- Government and public services: does not offer
- Social: does not offer
Using that summary, Walmart receives a score of 4.5 out of ten on the super app scale, and it will likely progress in the next few years. Walmart has made it clear that it plans to create a super app. As Omer Ismail, CEO of Walmart’s One, told the Wall Street Journal, the company’s strategy “is to build a financial services super app, a single place for consumers to manage their money.”