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We got a number of emails last week about Wal-Mart’s continuing desire to open a bank, the pressure being placed on the government by traditional banking institutions not to grant the retailer’s application, and our comment that we see no reason that banks should be protected from a little healthy competition.

One MNB user wrote:

I just don't see how Wal-Mart can be denied a bank since Target and others already have one. True, Wal-Mart does not exactly have the best reputation when it comes to competition, to put it mildly. But all the noise surrounding this is funded by the UFCU and your comments are dead on regarding the financial services industry. Banks in particular are not exactly model citizens (ever take a hard look at your monthly statement and add up the fees?) and like it or not, Wal-Mart does impact the bottom line of the ordinary citizen's wallet.

MNB user Jackie Lembke wrote:

I live in Kansas and the opinion I see most widely held agrees with you. Why should the financial institutions be protected from Wal-Mart when other businesses aren't.

MNB user Andy Casey wrote:

Seems to me the banks are more likely to be concerned about the potential impact on their lucrative transaction fee business than anything else. Letting WM clear their own debit and credit transactions would be bad enough, but how long do you think it would be until Kroger, Safeway, Federated et al wanted to do the same thing to "level the playing field"? If there is anyone in this discussion who is concerned about what is best for consumers (I am not sure there is, including the FDIC) it certainly isn't the banking industry.


And yet another MNB user wrote:

While your comments about banking consumers potentially benefiting from the increased competition that Wal-Mart might bring to the financial services sector are valid, they miss a critical point about leveling the playing field with Wal-Mart with regard to banking restrictions. Banks are highly regulated entities, and companies that own banks come under the scrutiny of the Federal Reserve Bank and Regulation Y, the Bank Holding Company Act. These bank holding companies have to comply with a host of regulations, many of which are designed to protect the consumer from potential risky financial "misadventures" (Lest we not forget the mid 1980's and the failure of several large banking institutions). Wal-Mart, by virtue of opening a bank, should be considered a bank holding company, and therefore, come under the same regulations imposed by the Federal Reserve that their traditional banking competitors do. My guess is that they would not be so interested in opening a bank if they believe that they will be required to comply with Reg Y.

Another member of the MNB community wrote:

The "Banking Business" is notorious for taking advantage of the average Wal-Mart customer. They charge insane amounts for bounced checks. Not to you and me, but to the lower income folks who live paycheck to paycheck and shop at Wal-Mart. It will be interesting to see how the "Banking Business" rationalizes their concerns with Wal-Mart getting into the banking business.

On the subject of 75-year-old J.W. Marriott Jr., who has started writing a blog on his hotel company’s website, one MNB user thought we were giving him too much credit:

As I understand it from the Washington Post story Marriott's "writing a blog" consists of his dictating thoughts which are then transcribed onto his weblog by someone else. And are somewhat planned serially, at least in his mind if not in fact. Given the one remove setup of creating this blog I would guess that comments on the blog will be filtered back through staff as well.

Somehow to me this just doesn't feel right, or a blog is now mutating into something other than the fresh, off-the-cuff expression of personal thoughts and opinion that is its current connotation.

My impression on reading this story was that marketing drove this development…

Speaking as someone who was blogging before the term was invented, we’ll grant you that some blogs are marketing driven and anything but spontaneous. But we still think it is a positive sign when senior executives more or less engage with their customers on the Internet.

We wrote last week about Fresh Express donating money to E. coli research efforts, even though its own products were not implicated in the recent outbreak.

One MNB user wrote:

The reason we consumers might stay away from a Fresh Express (or any other such company) is not that we think they were implicated, or can't keep track of who was or wasn't implicated in the last outbreak, but the recognition that next time it's likely to be someone else anyway. Similarly, there's no reason to think that Taco Bell (whatever you think of their food) is any worse than a number of other similar chains in the way they procure, clean and prepare produce, so I might as well avoid it all. We consumers are just scared that the foods we previously thought were the healthiest part of our diet carry this small but real potential threat of making us or our kids seriously ill.

Following our story about the court ruling that tossed out a Maryland law requiring minimal health benefits be provided by large employers, we had an exchange with MNB user David Livingston, who wrote, in part: This is a nice win for Wal-Mart. I'm tired of seeing this company being persecuted just because their employees won't sign up for the insurance that Wal-Mart is practically giving away.

We responded that Livingston’s comments seemed predicated on the assumption that every one of Wal-Mart’s employees can afford to pay for the health care coverage, and that those who do not are simply too dumb and/or irresponsible to do so.

To which he responded:

All Wal-Mart's employees can afford the Wal-Mart health insurance plan. Just the same way they can afford to pay their FICA tax along with state and Federal withholding taxes. Basically unless you force them to enroll in the program many will just opt not to. The few dollars going to health insurance premiums means fewer dollars for cokes, smokes, beer and lotto. Whether the premiums are $11 a week or $1 a week, it really doesn't matter. It’s just not important to them…

I think while you are jetting around the world on Singapore Airlines, perhaps you have lost touch with what it’s like to be poor. What happens is that when you are poor, you make a lot of irresponsible decisions for fear of becoming poorer. I recall my first years out of college I did not enroll in the company's 401k plan, even though they matched dollar for dollar and it saved me on taxes. I just wanted the money to pay bills. Looking back I wished they would have forced me to participate.

One way to solve all this nonsense about Wal-Mart health care is to make it a law that you have to have health insurance, the same way we are required to pay FICA taxes for our Social Security. If FICA was optional, do you think the poor would contribute?

We wrote last week about our experience buying a flat screen television from a small local retailer instead of the big box stores, noting that the salesperson seemed to have greater product knowledge and prices that were very competitive.

MNB user Brad Kochenour responded:

Your wall screen TV shopping experience made me reflect on a near identical story for myself in October of 2005 . I purchased a high quality Sony that just hit the market from a high quality local operator (Mike's Video / State College, Pa.), sold to me by a high quality sales person, delivered and installed with high quality workmanship. And then a follow up call to insure I was personally satisfied with the quality of the experience.... at a very competitive retail. Let's hope in a world that talks about value, variety, and price, that a commitment to QUALITY will always have a place on our list of choices.

It’s like that old line: “Life is too short to drink cheap wine.”
KC's View: