American Express Wants to Be Your Banker

Its new prepaid card is part of a strategy to dominate digital finance
Illustration by Topos Graphics

When Kanye West raps about the need to “American Express myself,” it’s a fair bet that he’s not talking about shopping at a Walmart. And yet, defying decades of upscale marketing, American Express has partnered with Wal-Mart Stores on its newest product, a prepaid debit card, Bluebird, that’s now on sale in 4,000 outlets nationwide. Customers can add money to Bluebird at Walmart stores or online and use the card anywhere AmEx plastic is accepted. It’s targeted mainly at the 68 million Americans the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. defines as “underbanked” or “unbanked”—a demographic very different from the customers AmEx has courted for decades with stylish ads showcasing luxury pursuits.

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