Walmart filed a patent for a cryptocurrency, saying a Blockchain-based currency would help the retail giant’s low-income customers who don’t have access to credit cards.
“Low-income households” may find regular banking expensive and see the currency as an “alternate way to handle wealth at an institution that can supply the majority of their day-to-day financial and product needs,” Walmart said in its patent filing on Aug. 1. “Providing digital currency based on blockchain may overcome the drawbacks associated with the low-income households.”
With 265 million weekly visitors and half a trillion dollars in annual revenue, the opportunity for Walmart is vast. Its filing may alarm some banks: “Customers without traditional bank accounts can create a microbank at an institution such as a retailer, which gains interest while their money is there.”
Cryptocurrency may save Walmart as much as $2.3 billion a year in fees, since about 23% of transactions at grocery stores are done through credit, according to Creditcards.com. Walmart’s average consumer earns $56,482, according to Kantar Retail.
“It could maybe work, but there’s a lot of overhead and regulatory headaches with cryptocurrency that would constrain adoption,” Aaron McPherson, the Vice President for Research Operations at Mercator Advisory Group, told Karma. Another concern is the cryptocurrency’s safety.
“The main security weakness with cryptocurrency is the point where cash is converted to cryptocurrency and back. That’s where fraudsters can intercept a transaction and divert it,” McPherson said. “I don’t know if Walmart has the security expertise to manage that risk. Operating a payments system is a big leap from what they are doing now.”
Walmart stepped into the Blockchain space last year after an E. coli outbreak from lettuce sickened more than 200 people. To make lettuce easier to manage and track back to their farms and producers within seconds, Walmart implemented a Blockchain-based record-keeping system for its suppliers.
Walmart said it sent letters to its suppliers of fresh greens “asking them to trace their products all the way back to the farm using Blockchain technology.”
The Blockchain system provides better supply-chain tracking, Joseph Bonneau, an assistant professor at NYU’s Courant Institute of Computer Science, told Karma. “After what happened, it does make sense for them to get universal centralized system. Even so, Bonneau said that Walmart getting its cryptocurrency past regulators without a team of experts and proper infrastructure would be difficult. “It would make more sense for them to launch a debit card.”
The relatively muted response to Walmart’s patent filing is in stark contrast to the outcry following Facebook’s June announcement it was developing a currency. Facebook’s claim its Libra currency would bring banking services to millions cut out of the global finance system wasn’t enough to quiet storms of criticism from around the world, including President Trump and U.S. Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell.