RETAILERS BANK ON FINANCIAL SERVICES

CINCINNATI -- Money is playing a bigger part in the nonfood strategies of two major retailers.Kroger Co., here, and 7-Eleven, Dallas, recently expanded their in-store financial capabilities into nontraditional banking services as a way of meeting the needs of an increasingly diverse U.S. population."It's another example of a convenient service for our customers, one that they won't find at many other

CINCINNATI -- Money is playing a bigger part in the nonfood strategies of two major retailers.

Kroger Co., here, and 7-Eleven, Dallas, recently expanded their in-store financial capabilities into nontraditional banking services as a way of meeting the needs of an increasingly diverse U.S. population.

"It's another example of a convenient service for our customers, one that they won't find at many other neighborhood supermarkets," said Gary Rhodes, director of communications for Kroger.

The supermarket chain has renewed an agreement with First Data Corp., Denver, for Western Union money transfer and money order services. The multi-year deal extends an existing agreement and adds 500 Kroger locations in Texas, California and Indiana to those offering money transfer services, and 1,000 Kroger stores to those offering money orders, according to published reports.

Meanwhile, convenience chain 7-Eleven announced earlier this month that it will team with Alliance Data Systems also here to offer two new stored-value and loyalty marketing programs to 7-Eleven's in-store Vcom electronic commerce kiosks. In addition to ATM capabilities, check-cashing services and money transfers, the proprietary touch-screen machines will soon enable customers to pay certain bills online.

7-Eleven plans to install 1,000 Vcom kiosks in its stores by the end of May, said Margaret Chabris, spokeswoman for the retailer. In a separate three-year deal, Alliance Data will provide stored-value services for the new reloadable 7-Eleven Convenience Card offered in participating stores beginning this month. The card can hold between $5 and $500 for "faster, simpler transactions," said Chabris.

"We knew we were already in financial services with money orders and ATM transactions, but we wanted a way to provide those services more conveniently as well as bundle other services with it," she told SN.

While retailers have provided these convenient services for several years, retailers are continually looking for ways to expand value-added programs and create revenue opportunities as delivery systems advance and the growing immigrant population in America creates a greater need for money transfer services, said Wendy Carver-Herbert, spokeswoman, Western Union.

"Grocery chains have been very strong agents for us," she said. Anchored by long-standing relationships with Kroger, Safeway and Albertsons, among others, Carver-Herbert noted that supermarket chains are "our largest distribution channel for transfer services in the U.S."

Arnold Danielson, chairman and founder, Danielson Associates, a Rockville, Md.-based bank consulting firm, concurred that there's a "tremendous market for people needing to send money back and forth to Central America."