MIAMI — Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has sold more than 1 million of its prepaid MoneyCards, and customers have loaded more than $1 billion on to them, since they were introduced nearly a year ago, said Jane Thompson, the president of the retailer's financial services business.

The Bentonville, Ark., company's MoneyCenters, which sell the cards and other financial products and services, are "one of the most profitable parts of our stores," Ms. Thompson said Monday at the Underbanked Financial Services Forum hosted by SourceMedia Inc., the parent company of American Banker.

Wal-Mart opened its 500th MoneyCenter last week and expects to have about 780 by yearend and 1,000 next year, she said.

The retailer is waiving the MoneyCard setup fee of $8.94 for customers who load their economic stimulus checks on the card. So far a small percentage of customers have done so, Ms. Thompson said.

Through a partnership with Fiserv Inc.'s CheckFree, Wal-Mart offers walk-in bill payment services at nearly all its MoneyCenters, and it "just rolled out" an online version for its prepaid cards, Ms. Thompson said.

Bill payment "could be even bigger than our check-cashing service, because you cash your check once every period, and you pay multiple bills," she said.

Developing a savings offering is one of Wal-Mart's "top priorities," Ms. Thompson said. "We have a few that we'd like to pilot this year. We've thought about emergency savings. We've thought about all kinds of ideas, but so far we haven't cracked it."

Overall, Wal-Mart's financial services business handles 2.5 million to 3.5 million transactions a week, Ms. Thompson said, including money orders (which is a "declining category") and money transfers.

For more than a decade Wal-Mart has rented space in its stores to banks to operate branches there. "In-store banks are still a great idea," Ms. Thompson said. "We continue to find that with partners it works. We still make money."

Working with partner companies has been "tricky" but "easier than trying to get a bank," she said. (Last year Wal-Mart withdrew an industrial loan charter application that drew strong opposition from banking lobbyists.)

Ms. Thompson said she was asked recently "if we were still going for a bank."

Her response: "I hope to work quite a while longer, but it's not going to be me" who tries to get one for the retailer.

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