In recent years, leading U.S. credit card issuers have changed their focus from simply acquiring new customers to optimizing relationships with existing cardholders. A key element to the overall success of this strategy is the ability to motivate newly-acquired cardholders to start—and continue—to use the card. According to The Nilson Report, the average credit card activation rate (active accounts as a percentage of total accounts) for the top 50 Visa and Mastercard issuers was 57% in 2017. However, there is significant variation among issuers. For example, Citibank had a credit card activation rate of 68%, while Fifth Third’s was just 49%. Low activation rates represent a lost opportunity in optimizing customer lifetime value, as well as a waste of marketing resources expended in cardholder acquisition.
Here are 10 key considerations for boosting credit card activation rates.
- Benchmark current credit card activation performance. The starting point involves gaining a strong understanding of your current activation rate, how this rate has changed over time, and how it compares to competitors’ rates. Also study previous and current activation rates to identify the primary factors contributing to the current rate.
- Conduct customer research. Analyze customer data to size and profile the inactive cardholder base. Conduct additional primary research to identify key card activation triggers and barriers.
- Develop a credit card activation plan. With input from all relevant stakeholders in the organization, develop an integrated credit card activation plan. Create a team dedicated to implementing the plan, and assign roles and responsibilities. Develop an integrated series of initiatives, and establish a timeline to roll out these initiatives and measure progress against plan objectives.
- Create bonus offers. Most credit card bonus offers are based on acquisition and activation, with the cardholder receiving the bonus (points, miles, cashback) if they meet a certain spending threshold within a period following acquisition (typically 60-90 days). Higher-end cards (many of which carry annual fees) have larger bonus offers. Chase recently launched the Marriott Rewards Premier Plus Card, featuring 100,000 bonus points if the cardholder spends $5,000 within three months of account opening. A variation on the bonus offer is to have higher earn rates on specific spending categories for an initial period.
- Develop pricing to drive activation. Set pricing levels (interest rates and fees) to encourage the cardholders to start using the card. One common approach is to have 0% introductory rates on balances transfers for transfers made within an initial period. For example, the new BBVA Compass Rewards Card has a 0% introductory rate for 13 months for balance transfers made with 60 days of account opening.
- Focus on cardholder onboarding. Develop a communications plan to engage with new cardholders during the crucial initial 90-day period. These communications should welcome the cardholder, reinforce the card’s key strengths and differentiating features, highlight incentives, and encourage card usage.
- Adjust sales incentives. Consider tweaking incentive plans to reward front-line sales people for their customer activation efforts.
- Leverage cardholder usage of different service channels. Many cardholders use multiple channels (desktop, mobile, branch, call center, social media) to engage with their financial services provider. Develop messaging across these channels to promote card benefits and highlight the need for activation.
- Create financial education tools. Many financial firms are investing in financial education tools using multiple media to boost overall financial literacy and to enable consumers made smart decisions in using a variety of financial products and services, including credit cards. Developing and sharing content around managing a credit card effectively can both build affinity with your company and encourage the cardholder to use the card responsibly.
- Review performance. Following the launch of your credit card activation initiatives, identify and address any issues in implementation, track performance relative to objectives, and incorporate learnings into ongoing card activation efforts.
Several recent articles and pieces of news pertinent to robos and advisors create an interesting mosaic of the current state of human and machine advice:
The image created by these items depicts the struggles in the advisory business to settle on a clear, promising strategy for integrating advice channels.
The Limits of Disruption
When robos appeared on the scene several years ago, they were heralded as the future of wealth management, a democratizing blow for the industry, and a mortal assault on traditional financial advice. Any who have seen the hype machine movie before won’t be surprised that none of those things turned out to be true. In the real world, the biggest “robos” in terms of assets are those of Vanguard and Schwab that operate as hybrids while the “pure play” B2C robos have struggled to accumulate assets and breakeven on customer acquisition costs.
The reason for this discrepancy between reality and hype is simple: Irrational as it may sometimes be, most people want humans involved in their financial planning. A 2016 survey conducted by EMI and Boston Research Technologies showed not only that most want human involvement, but also that those who were more open to algorithm-driven investing didn’t neatly map to pre-conceived demographic categories. The bottom line is that you can’t will customers and prospects into following your vision for a service offering. Moreover, making assumptions about their behavior based on intuition and truism doesn’t create a strong foundation for success.
The truth is that the majority of customers want a hybrid model. Many of the leading wealth managers understand this and have implemented or will implement various forms of hybrid offerings. In fact, as I mentioned earlier, the largest robos are actually those launched by existing wealth managers Vanguard and Schwab.
But any business heading down the hybrid path needs to recognize that their old models of and assumptions about client management and messaging will likely need to change. Specifically:
- If portfolio management is outsourced to machines, it becomes a commodity and value must be defined in terms of relationships and communication—an idea that has been around for some time but which has not gained universal acceptance because it is hard to execute.
- If you are advocating for clients to use your automated platform, you need to recognize that you are now responsible for their adoption of and satisfaction with the investment management software. Firms and their advisors need to be ready to assist clients onboard, answer their questions, and help them realize the full value of the software.
- Pushing the wrong clients towards a robo solution is a lose-lose situation that will cost time and assets. Firms and their advisors need to have ways of identifying where clients are likely to fall on the spectrum of interest in and comfort with automated portfolio management, recognizing that age and net worth will likely not be great proxies.
Banks looking to build awareness and engagement with small business owners should look to leverage strengths in specific markets and develop targeted marketing campaigns and other outreach programs. The following are some of the most popular ways that banks see to engage with small businesses at the local market level.
Leverage the branch network.
- Small businesses continue to be among the heaviest users of bank branches, and leading banks deploy dedicated small business bankers in branches to provide expert advice and support. This past January, as part of a broader commitment to its brand network, Chase announced plans to hire 500 small business bankers.
- Banks use their branch network to bring small business campaigns to life. Last month, Santander Bank rolled out its Small Business Month campaign, which featured in-branch merchandising and in-branch events across its network of more than 600 branches.
- Some banks even allocate space in their branches for small businesses to use. Citizens Bank recently created open space in its Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, branch that small business clients can use to conduct meetings with customers and business partners.
Target campaigns at local markets.
- Capital One launched its We Work as One campaign, designed to promote and empower local businesses in select markets (New York City, Chicago, San Francisco, Denver and Boston) where it operates local Capital One Cafes.
Foster small business entrepreneurship.
- Some banks include small business entrepreneurship as part of their broader community outreach. For example, Santander Bank’s Cultivate Small Business initiative promotes small business ownership in underserved communities in Greater Boston.
- Banks also recognize small business achievement with contests and awards. In May 2018, Citizens Bank announced Small Business Community Champion Award winners in Boston, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
Partner with local groups that promote small businesses.
- Banks look to develop partnership with a host of local organizations that represent small business interests. Prominent among these organizations are the more than 3,000 chambers of commerce located through the U.S. Many banks team up with local chambers to carry out joint initiatives, such as hosting member events and carrying out surveys. Last November, Webster Bank hosted a cybersecurity event in partnership with Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce.
Publish market-specific versions of small business surveys.
- These surveys enable banks to highlight their presence in and commitment to particular markets. In addition, market-specific findings can be leveraged by small business bankers to engage with small business owners in these markets. Banks that have recently published market-specific versions of small business surveys include Bank of America, PNC and U.S. Bank.
To develop and implement an effective small business-focused local market strategy, banks need to:
- Identify and profile key local markets (including the bank’s in-market presence and competitive environment, as well as the size and composition of the small business market)
- Prioritize the markets for targeting
- Tailor marketing programs based on goals and local market conditions
- Gain input and buy-in from key local stakeholders, including branch managers and in-branch small business specialists
- Track campaign performance, and distill learnings for use in other local markets and future campaigns