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:
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
In a March 2017 blog post, EMI highlighted growth in credit card outstandings across the credit spectrum for leading credit card issuers. Our recent analysis of 3Q17 10Q SEC filings for these companies shows that this trend is continuing.
The top three issuers—Bank of America, Chase, and Citigroup—reported growth across all FICO Score segments, with strongest growth coming in the lowest segment. In the aftermath of the Financial Crisis, issuers pulled back on lending to low-prime and sub-prime consumers. With the return to steady economic growth in recent years—and with issuers now believing that they have more robust underwriting and pricing systems—issuers are now refocusing on consumers in lower FICO Score categories.
Assets at both Capital One and Discover skew heavily towards credit card loans. Discover generated 9% y/y rise in credit card outstandings, led by 16% rise in loans to consumers with a <600 FICO Score. Capital One bucked the overall trend, with lower growth for its <660 FICO Score segment. However, it should be taken into account that this segment accounts for 35% of its total credit card outstandings (vs. 15% at Chase, 16% at Citi, and 19% at Discover), so it has less scope for strong growth.
The leading regional bank card issuers—who focus on cross-selling credit cards to existing bank clients—reported a similar pattern. SunTrust has continued its very strong growth trajectory, with overall growth of 16% led by the <620 category. Regions followed a similar pattern, with 7% overall growth in outstandings driven by a 35% rise in the subprime (<620) segment. PNC had strong growth across the credit spectrum. Fifth Third had strong growth in the <660 segment, but from a very low base. The y/y decline in outstandings in its 720+ category resulted in Fifth Third overall credit card outstandings remaining unchanged. Wells Fargo’s overall growth rate (+4% y/y) has slowed considerably in recent quarters. It generated steady growth across most categories, with the exception of the 600-680 FICO range.
The American Banker Association’s September 2015 Credit Card Market Monitor found a 28% y/y rise in new subprime accounts, indicating that issuers are expanding their focus as they seek to grow revenues. An analysis by EMI Strategic Marketing of the FICO composition of credit card outstandings at the end of 2Q15 finds that many leading card issuers are accelerating growth in sub-prime and low-prime outstandings.
In recent years, Wells Fargo has reported strong y/y growth in all FICO categories.
In its <600 FICO category, growth has accelerated to double-digit rates in the past three quarters.
Its 600-639 FICO category has grown by double-digit rates in six of the past seven quarters.
Among national credit card issuers, Bank of America’s subprime outstandings declined 9% y/y in 2Q15, but the rate of subprime loan decline has been steadily slowing in recent quarters. However, Citi’s subprime outstandings growth performance is less consistent, with y/y growth from 4Q13 to 2Q14 followed by declines for the past four quarters.
There are also mixed trends when analyzing subprime outstandings performance of regional bank card issuers. PNC reported a 6% y/y decline in <620 FICO outstandings in 2Q15, compared to a rise of 1% in 1Q15. Regions reported strong growth in <620 FICO in recent quarters (double-digit y/y rises between 2Q14 and 1Q15), but this fell to just 2% in 2Q15. However, it should be noted that Regions’ total subprime outstandings were just $49 million, so variations in growth rates are not unexpected. SunTrust reported double-digit y/y increases in subprime outstandings for three of the past four quarters.
EMI’s analysis also shows that subprime outstandings growth continues to trail prime and superprime outstandings growth for several reasons:
The large national issuers continue to deal with legacy issues following the financial crisis.
For issuers in general, underwriting standards continue to favor superprime consumers.
And even though many issuers are ramping up subprime account production, it will take some time before it translates into strong growth in subprime outstandings.
Meanwhile, an analysis of FDIC data for the 2Q15 shows strong outstandings growth for subprime credit card specialists, including Comenity (+23% y/y) and Merrick Bank (+16%). As the card industry in general increase its focus on the subprime market, it will be interesting to see if the acceleration in subprime outstandings growth among some regional bank card issuers is replicated by the large national issuers. In addition, growth in subprime credit card outstandings should result in delinquency and charge-off rates rising from their current historically low levels.