- Walmart filed a patent application Thursday to create a digital currency that would make transactions cheaper and faster and potentially serve as an alternative to banking for unbanked customers. "Customers without traditional bank accounts can create a microbank at an institution such as a retailer, which gains interest while their money is there," the patent application said.
- Walmart's journey toward launch may differ from Facebook's recently announced cryptocurrency, Libra, in that the retailer could choose to develop the currency by itself.
- Walmart already uses blockchain to track produce along its supply chain and has thrown its support behind mobile pay initiatives before, as the company was a major backer of MCX before delays and a hack of consumer information buried it. Several retailers subsequently began accepting Apple Pay; Walmart developed its own credit-card alternative.
Walmart is looking to increase its profit by cutting out the transaction fees it pays to the likes of Visa and Mastercard when consumers use credit or debit cards.
But the retail giant also is trying to keep pace with competitors such as Amazon and Target, which offer delivery services. Walmart began testing its Delivery Unlimited service last year in select markets such as Houston and Miami.
Among the touted benefits of cryptocurrency, Walmart looks to use artificial intelligence to "[help] the customer to buy an amount according to his budget, values, affinities and preferences," according to the patent.
However, the retailer appears to be nowhere close to launching the currency. "We don't have any plans for this patent at this time," Walmart spokesman Kory Lundberg told Bloomberg in an email.
This wouldn’t be Walmart's first entry into the banking marketplace. The chain applied to operate an industrial bank in Utah in 2005, but regulators rejected it in 2007. The retailer offers banking services in Canada and Mexico.
Facebook, which has drawn fire over Libra, may act as a warning sign for potential hurdles. Lawmakers have expressed concern over its ease of access — potentially to money launderers — and questioned how to regulate such a currency. Facebook has 27 launch partners tied to Libra's development, some of whom, like Visa, have since distanced themselves from the project.