by Max Brantley
Wal-Mart doesn't want to get into retail banking, right? You judge. Lead from the Wall Street Journal:
Wal-Mart, Inc., underscoring its continuing push into financial services, has quietly renegotiated the terms of leases with a number of banks operating in its stores, giving Wal-Mart itself the explicit right to offer mortgages, home-equity lines of credit and consumer loans.
A portion of one of the leases, obtained by Dow Jones Newswires, also gives Wal-Mart the ability to offer debit cards and investment and insurance products either directly or through a third-party vendor. In the wording of the new lease, Wal-Mart said it could "offer these products and services in the checkout lanes, at the customer-service desk, through automated-delivery channels, kiosks" or any other place in the store.
The new lease language comes at a time when Wal-Mart has generated controversy over its repeated efforts to enter the banking business, a push that has drawn fierce opposition from the banking industry, some members of Congress and activist groups. The Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer has a pending application to establish an industrial-loan company in Utah but has promised publicly that it won't open retail bank branches.
The company minimized the importance of the changes, as spokesman Kevin Gardner said the lease language didn't "signal anything new."
"We've been offering services like check cashing, money transfers, branded credit cards and bill payments for some time," he said. "Our strategy is to continue to grow our existing financial services to continue to save our customers money so they can live better."
Live better, the Wal-Mart way. This does remind me of what used to be my favorite grocery store, Schwegman's in New Orleans. They sold Schwegman bonds at the checkout stand and sold Dixie beer at the shopper's bar for about 15 cents a can. High balls were 35 cents.