Most of the leading U.S. credit card issuers—portfolios of more than $500 million— reported y/y growth in their average credit card outstandings in the first quarter of 2017.
However, all of these issuers are also experiencing significant growth in credit card net charge-offs (gross charge-offs minus recoveries). Of the 19 issuers:
10 reported y/y charge-off increases of more than 20%.
For 17, charge-off rises outpaced outstandings growth.
These recent significant increases in charge offs follow an extended period of declining charge-off rates in the aftermath of the 2008-9 Financial Crisis. During the 2010-2015 period, issuers tightened up their credit card underwriting considerably, and consumers moved away from racking up high levels of credit card debt. According to the FDIC, the credit card net charge-off rate fell from a recessionary high of more than 13% in 1Q10 to less than 3% in 3Q15. Since then, the rate rose slightly—to 3.16% in 4Q16—but still well below levels seen prior to the Financial Crisis. And five of the issuers in the chart above (Chase, Bank of America, Discover, BB&T and SunTrust) still had net charge-off rates of less than 3% in 1Q17.
Even though current charge-off rates are low by historic averages, issuers must be careful not to allow charge-off momentum to grow to a problematic level. One area of potential concern: many leading credit card issuers are reporting strongest outstandings growth for their low FICO Score segments, which tend to have significantly higher credit risk profiles.
Of course, when focusing on growing credit card loans, issuers accept that charge offs will rise. However, they can help to ensure that these charge offs remain at a manageable level by:
Maintaining underwriting discipline
Avoiding a race to the bottom in credit card pricing; it’s notable that, according to CreditCards.com, the average credit card APR reached a record high of 15.80%)
Providing content and tools to educate consumers on how to use credit cards responsibly
Continuing to market credit cards as both payment tools and sources of credit
According to EMI Strategic Marketing’s analysis of data from the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council (FFIEC), U.S. banks spent $17.1 billion on advertising and marketing in 2016. This expenditure represented 2.4% of bank revenues. Five banks (JPMorgan Chase, American Express, Citigroup, Capital One and Bank of America) each spent more than $1 billion, and together accounted for more than half of the industry’s total expenditure. The following chart looks at 2016 marketing-to-revenue ratios for 20 leading U.S. banks (note that for JPMorgan Chase and Capital One, marketing spend data is provided for both their retail bank charters and card-issuing units).
Most banks grew their marketing spending in 2016, as they looked to drive revenue growth in an improving economy. 10 banks reported double-digit percentage rises in their advertising and marketing budgets. In some cases (e.g., KeyBank and Huntington), the strong increases were in part the result of significant bank acquisitions.
13 banks grew their marketing-to-revenue ratios in 2016.
Half of the banks in the chart (mostly branch-based banks) have marketing-to-revenue ratios of between 1.5% and 3%.
Several banks have been ramping up their marketing spend in recent years. Between 2014 and 2016, Santander Bank’s spend nearly doubled between 2014 and 2016, and its 2016 marketing-to-revenue ratio of 4.0% was the highest among branch-based banks.
At the other end of the scale, both Wells Fargo and BB&T have ratios consistently below 1%.
Credit card-focused banks/bank charters have the highest marketing-to-revenue ratios.
Chase Bank USA (JPMorgan Chase’s card-issuing bank) had a ratio of almost 20% in 2016. The sharp rise in the ratio from 2014 and 2015 was due to both a 6% rise in advertising and marketing spend (to support the launches of Freedom Unlimited and Sapphire Reserve), as well as a sharp decline in noninterest income.
American Express increased in its advertising and marketing spend by 15% in 2016, and its ratio rose to nearly 12%.
As banks look to scale back their branch networks both to save costs and adapt to changing bank channel usage (in particular for everyday banking transactions), they are also cognizant of the potential loss of the branch’s role as a branding beacon in local markets. Therefore, it’s likely that a portion of the cost savings from branch network reductions will be diverted to advertising and marketing budgets. As a result, we may expect banks’ marketing-to-revenue ratios to gradually increase in the coming years.
There is a wealth of evidence that consumers are using online and mobile channels as the primary channels for their everyday banking needs:
Having reached critical mass in online banking penetration, the largest U.S. banks continue to report strong growth in active mobile banking customers (Chase +23% y/y to 17.2 million; Bank of America up 17% to 15.5 million; and Wells Fargo +22% to 13.1 million)
Regional bank customers are also growing their usage of non-branch channels. 45% of PNC customers use non-branch channels for a majority of banking transactions. Fifth Third reports that ATM and mobile channels’ share of deposit volume rose from 12% to 31% over the past two years. KeyBank claims that online and mobile transactions are growing by 9% annually, while branch transactions are declining by 3%.
The rise of self-service channels for everyday banking transactions is leading banks to re-assess their investment in their branch networks. For example, banks are changing traditional assumptions as to what constitutes optimal branch density within markets. In a recent presentation, KeyBank claimed that branch density is now less relevant as long as a bank can pair branches with a good mobile offering. In addition, in a low-revenue-growth environment, banks are under pressure to cut costs in order to meet earnings expectations. As a result of these factors, banks are cutting branch numbers.
Bank of America is expected to cut branches to below 5,000 by the end of 2014, compared to more than 5,700 in the second quarter of 2011. It recently announced the sale of branch clusters in North Carolina and Michigan.
Over the past six months Citibank sold all of its branches in Texas, as it focuses its energies on a select number of large metro markets.
KeyBank has closed or sold 8% of its branches over the past two years, and plans to cut its network further, by about 2-3% per year.
However, banks remain strongly committed to their branch networks. This is largely due to the fact that consumers continue to value the branch channel, even if usage has declined. A recent ABA survey found that 21% of consumers named the branch as their preferred banking channel, up from 18% in 2013. In addition, banks recognize the benefits in encouraging customers to use multiple channels. Wells Fargo found that customers using its stores as well as online and mobile channels have a 70% higher purchase rate than customers who only use online and mobile. With in this mind, the following are five branch strategies that banks should follow, with examples of banks that have already implemented these approaches:
Deploy new branch formats. Given lower traffic and transaction volumes in branches, banks should launch branch prototypes with smaller footprints, so that they can maintain their physical presence, but at a lower cost.
PNC has converted 200 of its branches to a smaller format, with 100 more to follow by the end of 2014.
Launch flagship branches in selected markets. With changing ideas around branch density, bank can consolidate multiple branches into a large flagship store. These flagship stores act as a brand beacon for the bank in specific markets, as well as providing space for the bank to showcase new innovations
Reconfigure branch staff. As branch activity is switching from transaction processing to sales and advice, and branches switch to smaller format, bank can reduce the average number of staff per branch, but should also change the functional balance, with fewer tellers and more sales specialists.
In the 18 months to June 2014, Fifth Third cut 22% of its branch service staff, but increased sales staff by 6%.
Over the past year, PNC has grown its number of investment professionals in branches by 4%.
Incorporate technology into branches. As consumers become more accustomed with using technology for their everyday financial needs, banks should showcase customer-facing technology in branches. This can enhance the user experience and capture sales opportunities
Regions is installing two-way video to enable customers communicate directly with bankers via an ATM.
Open branches outside of footprint. As having a critical mass of branches in a market is no longer a prerequisite for success, banks can open branches beyond their traditional retail footprint, to target specific consumer or business clusters.
City National has established branches in New York City, Atlanta and Nashville, dedicated to targeting entertainment firms that are clustered within these markets.