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T-Mobile US says to expand into banking cards

Signage for a T-Mobile store is pictured in downtown Los Angeles, California August 31, 2011. REUTERS/Fred Prouser
Signage for a T-Mobile store is pictured in downtown Los Angeles, California August 31, 2011. REUTERS/Fred Prouser

NEW YORK (Reuters) - T-Mobile US is stepping beyond cellphones and offering payment cards in the latest effort to differentiate its service from bigger rivals.

The No. 4 U.S. mobile provider said it is offering a Visa card with banking features and a smartphone money management application with reduced-fee or zero-cost services for T-Mobile wireless customers.

The company, which has gained attention with promises of more flexible and cheaper cellphone services, is hoping to attract a similar following in personal finance.

The card, issued by a Bancorp Inc subsidiary and licensed by Visa Inc, is similar to a bank account. It will allow consumers to direct deposit paychecks and checks from smartphone cameras, make retail purchases, pay bills and withdraw cash from more than 42,000 ATMs with no fees.

The service could be attractive to people who struggle to qualify for traditional bank accounts but is unlikely to bring in revenue for the operator, at least in the short term, said Jackdaw Research analyst Jan Dawson.

"This has to be seen today as strictly a competitive differentiator and not a revenue opportunity, though I would expect T-Mobile to offer a broader range of financial services over time, and perhaps try to make some money on those," Dawson said. "For now, though, this is another marketing effort from T-Mobile that will cost money rather than make money for the company."

T-Mobile Chief Executive John Legere managed to turn around four years of customer losses with subscriber growth in the last three quarters of 2013 by offering discounted services and loudly criticizing bigger rivals Verizon Wireless, AT&T Inc and Sprint Corp.

T-Mobile shares were down 3 cents at $33.14 on the New York Stock Exchange on Wednesday.

(Reporting by Sinead Carew; Editing by Nick Zieminski)

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