An EMI Strategic Marketing analysis of 30 leading U.S. banks found strong overall growth in marketing budgets for the second consecutive year. Following an 18% decline in 2020 in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, these leading banks have grown their marketing budgets by 53% over the past two years.
These banks’ average marketing ratio (marketing spend as a percentage of net revenues) rose by 34 basis points (bps) to 3.65% in 2022.
There is significant variation in bank marketing ratios between – and within – different banking categories.
Card-centric banks like American Express and Discover tend to have high marketing ratios as they have national reach but no branch networks.
Direct banks also have relatively high marketing ratios as they lack branch networks. Newer challenger banks are also investing significantly in marketing to build customers, deposits and assets.
More ‘traditional’ bricks-and-mortar banks typically have marketing ratios in the 1-3% range, although even in these categories we see significant variation as individual banks pursued different marketing objectives. Regional banks like Cadence Bank (+285% to $42 million) and BMO (+23% to $128 million) ramped up budgets in 2022 to promote brand overhauls. Super regional banks like Citizens (+38% to $184 million) and M&T Bank (+41% to $91 million) significantly grew their marketing spend to support entry into new markets following recent acquisitions.
Going into 2023, the projected trajectory for bank marketing spend is less clear, with rising inflation and slowing economic growth forcing banks to look for ways to reduce expenses. In addition, because they have grown budgets in recent years, some leading banks may decide to pause or even scale back their marketing budgets in 2023. However, many have stated their commitment to maintaining or even growing their marketing investment to support specific business strategies.
Discover expects double-digit growth in marketing spend as it pursues growth opportunities in credit card and deposits. It also claims that it continues to see strong returns on its investments.
Fifth Third plans to increase marketing spend in the mid-single digits in 2023 as it targets customer acquisition in the Southeast.
Axos Bank is maintaining higher spend levels as it seeks to grow deposits in an increasing competitive market.
Established and challenger banks responded to key changes in the small business landscape (ongoing economic recovery and the ending of PPP loans) in the third quarter of 2021 with new business banking solutions and thought leadership.
Banks published surveys that gauged small business owner optimism and addressed current hot topics, such as inflation (PNC), supply chain disruptions (Umpqua Bank), access to funding (Goldman Sachs) and relationship with their financial service provider (Kabbage).
Leading small business credit card issuers launched new cards with high earn rates to capture a greater share of the increased card spend following the pandemic. Noteworthy examples include Capital One Spark Cash Plus (2% cash back on all purchases) and U.S. Bank Triple Cash Rewards Visa Business (3% cash back on four core categories). In addition, American Express launched a business-to-business marketing campaign (“Built for Business”) promoting its business cards.
Financial firms continued to generate small business content, with new podcast services added to the suite of content options during the quarter (e.g., Regions Next Step for Business and Comerica’s Small Business Summer Series on LinkedIn).
Banks rolled out initiatives for historically-underserved business segments, including black-owned business (Ally’s $30 million commitment to help grow black-owned businesses) and women-owned businesses (BMO Harris’s Women in Business Credit Program).
We have come to the end of the financial reporting season for the main U.S. banks, and the following trends are showing up in four key credit card metrics:
New account production
Leading issuers report y/y growth in outstandings. In recent quarters, issuers have reported strong y/y declines in outstandings, due to low economy activity and high repayment rates. In the most recent quarter, however, many issuers are now reporting y/y loan growth, led by American Express (+6%) and Capital One (+4%). This growth should continue in the coming quarters as payment rates moderate (in part due to the ending of federal COVID support payments).
Strong growth in credit card volume continues. All of the leading issuers who include volume data in their quarterly financials reported y/y growth rates of at least 20%, driven by the increase in economic activity, recent account growth and the ongoing transition to electronic payments. Many issuers are reporting that spending levels are well above 2019 levels. In addition, issuers are now reporting strong growth in categories where spending plummeted in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly travel & entertainment (T&E). American Express reported a 124% y/y rise in T&E spending in 3Q21, although this was still 29% below the 3Q19 level. Discover reported that 3Q21 travel spending was 1% higher than the same period in 2019. American Express has also reported that spending growth is being driven by younger consumers: its Gen Z and Millennial customers generated y/y spending growth of 38% between 3Q19 and 3Q21, vs. a 6% decline for Baby Boomers.
Charge-off rates have fallen to historic lows but may be bottoming out. Net charge-off rates for most leading issuers are now less than 2%, due to high payment rates and bank supports for consumers in arrears during the pandemic. Some issuers – such as Capital One – reported modest quarterly increases in delinquency rates in recent months, an indication that the decline in charge-off rates should bottom out in the coming quarter.
Issuers have started to ramp up new credit card acquisition activity.Wells Fargo and Bank of America more than doubled new accounts between 3Q20 and 3Q21, as production returned to pre-pandemic levels. Moreover, issuers appear to be committed to investing marketing dollars to drive further acquisition and usage. Capital One has ramped up its marketing spend by 79% y/y in the first 9 months of 2021 and expects to continue this investment in the fourth quarter.