An Analysis of Leading U.S. Banks’ 2018 Marketing Spending

EMI analyzed 2018 marketing spend by 27 of the leading U.S. banks, and found that most banks are ramping up their investment in marketing.  The rise in marketing budgets is driven by a number of factors, including:

  • The continued growth of the U.S. economy.
  • The ongoing scaling back of bank’s branch networks.  This reduces their on-the-ground presence, so banks need to invest more in marketing to maintain brand awareness.  In addition, cost savings from smaller branch networks can be redirected to other functions, including marketing.
  • The need for established banks to reposition themselves in a changing financial services ecosystem, characterized by the emergence of fintech firms and direct (branchless) banks.

Overall, marketing spending by the banks rose 13% to $13.0 billion in 2018. 

  • 17 banks grew their marketing budgets.
  • 14 banks increased their marketing spend by double-digit rates, led by Wells Fargo (+40%), BBVA Compass (+34%) and Capital One (+30%).

5 banks spent more than $1 billion on marketing: JPMorgan Chase ($3,290MM), American Express ($2,578MM), Capital One ($2,174MM), Bank of America ($1,513MM) and Citibank ($1,419MM).

The 27 banks’ cumulative marketing spend represented 2.9% of their 2018 net revenues, which represents a 17 basis point rise from the banks’ 2017 marketing ratio. 

  • The marketing ratios of the 27 banks ranged from 11.2% for American Express to 1.0% for Wells Fargo. 
  • A majority of the banks (16 of the 27) had marketing ratios in the 1.5% – 2.5% range.

The variation in marketing ratios is due to on a number of factors, including product concentration, size of branch networks, perceived importance of strong brand equity, as well as the timing of marketing investments (such as the launch of new advertising campaigns).

  • For example, American Express and Discover have no branch networks, are primarily focused on selling credit and charge cards, and have traditionally invested to maintain strong brand awareness. Therefore, their marketing ratios are more in line with fast moving consumer goods firms, rather than financial institutions.

15 banks increased their marketing ratios between 2017 and 2018.

  • Wells Fargo, which has traditionally had a low marketing ratio as it focused resources of its large branch network, increased its marketing spend by 40% to more than $850 million in 2018, and its marketing ratio grew by 30 bps.  The strong rise in spend was in large part due to the launch of the “Re-Established” integrated marketing campaign in May 2018.  It is worth noting that Wells Fargo remains well below national bank peers, such as JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America.
  • Other banks with strong increases in their marketing ratios include Capital One (+161 bps to 7.7%) and BBVA Compass (+57 bps to 3.3%).

Banks Look to Local Marketing to Build Small Business Engagement

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

Credit Card Issuers Experiencing Loan Growth Across FICO Spectrum…But Face Rising Charge-Offs

Most leading U.S. credit card issuers reported relatively strong y/y growth in outstandings in the first quarter of 2018.

Breaking these growth rates out by FICO Score segment, we see that issuers generated growth across multiple FICO Score categories.

  • There are important differences in the FICO composition of card portfolios.  The <660 FICO Score segment accounted for 34% of Capital One’s portfolio, a much higher percentage than other issuers, such as Fifth Third (3%), Chase (7%), KeyBank (11%), Citi (16%) and Discover (19%).
  • Among the largest issuers, one of the most notable trends was strong growth in the low-prime/sub-prime and super-prime segments, but low/no growth in their prime portfolio.  Bank of America grew its sub-prime (<620) outstandings by 6% and its super-prime (>720) increased 8%.  However, its loan portfolio held by consumers with FICO scores between 620 and 739 only increased by 2%.
  • Most regional bank card issuers (such as PNC, SunTrust and Regions) reported strong growth in their sub-prime and near-prime portfolios.  Fifth Third’s <660 FICO Score portfolio rose 43%, but this category only accounts for 3% of the bank’s credit card portfolio, so growth was from a very low base.

As issuers enjoy strong growth in their credit card outstandings—especially for sub-prime and near-prime consumer segments—it is worth noting that charge-offs are also on the increase.  Most issuers reported double-digit y/y basis-point growth in their credit card net charge-off rates.  Four of the 12 issuers below now have charge-off rates of more than 4%, and only one (American Express) has a charge-off rate of less than 3%.

So, while issuers want to grow credit card loans across the FICO Score spectrum, they need to ensure that various functions are all calibrated to ensure that cardholder delinquencies and charge-offs remain at manageable levels.  These functions include:

  • Underwriting
  • Marketing: targeting, offer development, and messaging
  • Pricing: fees and APRs need to be set at levels that balance cardholder ability to pay with an appropriate margin to offset potentially higher charge offs
  • Customer support: onboarding, financial education, as well as early engagement in cases where cardholders experience payment challenges