In a bid to better leverage its millions of customers, retail giant Walmart Inc. created a fintech start-up to win more of their spending.
The company has formed a partnership with Ribbit Capital, an investor in stock-trading platform Robinhood, to start a venture that “will bring together Walmart’s retail knowledge and scale with Ribbit’s fintech expertise to deliver tech-driven financial experiences tailored to Walmart’s customers and associates,” according to a statement.
Financial technology, or fintech, companies aim to give consumers ways to save, borrow and invest online or via phone without dealing with a traditional bank. Walmart will own a majority of the new venture, but didn’t provide more specific details. The company’s shares gained after the close of regular trading. Meanwhile, a blank-check company set up by Ribbit, surged.
Walmart’s head-to-head competition with Amazon.com Inc. means it is increasingly growing beyond retail. The company is trying to reinvent itself, including launching its own low-cost health clinics and getting into the insurance business. On the tech front, it emerged in late 2020 as a potential bidder for TikTok’s US business after earlier in the year selling its Vudu streaming platform to Comcast Corp.’s Fandango.
The goal of Walmart may be to build an infrastructure like Alibaba has in Asia, where it’s both an online retailer and a major financial services provider — all in the same platform.
Walmart has long sought to have a bigger foothold in financial services — interests that can be traced back to at least the 1990s. The world’s largest banks have long rebuffed those efforts, though, arguing that businesses pertaining to finance and commerce should be separate.
Even so, Walmart has its hands in many parts of the financial world. At Walmart MoneyCenter locations, consumers can cash checks, receive tax preparation services and send money overseas. That, combined with spending in its stores, its credit and prepaid cards, and seeing foot traffic to bank branches in its locations, means Walmart has access to a trove of information about the ways consumers manage their finances.
Banks in recent months have grown increasingly worried that Walmart and other retail giants would get into lending and other areas after the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. late last year approved a rule that will allow non-financial firms to seek banking charters. An effort by the retailer Rakuten Inc. to set up its own bank is seen as a major test case in an attempt to break down the traditional barrier between banking and commerce.
By Jenny Surane and Matt Townsend