Banks ramp up advertising and marketing spend in 2016

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.

Banks Grew Marketing Budgets and Marketing Ratios Modestly in 2014

EMI analysis of recently-published FDIC data on 2014 marketing spending for 17 leading banks found that banks are beginning to grow their marketing budgets in order to drive revenue growth in a growing economy.  The scale of the increase was relatively modest, a trend that we expect to continue in 2015, as banks look to marry their desire for revenue generation with a continued need to exercise a tight rein on costs.

Specific findings from our analysis:

  • Total marketing spending for these 17 banks rose 4% between 2013 and 2014. 10 of the 17 banks increased their marketing budgets, 6 cut their budgets, while SunTrust’s marketing expenditure was unchanged.
  • Net revenues for the 17 banks fell 2%; as a result, their marketing-to-revenue ratios rose by 16 basis points to 2.84%.
  • Chase had by far the largest marketing budget at nearly $2.8 billion, up 2% from 2013.  Four other leading banks (American Express, Citigroup, Capital One and Bank of America) had marketing budgets of more than $1 billion.
  • Of the 10 banks that grew their marketing budgets in 2014, 5 also showed increased revenues. The 4 banks with the lowest marketing-to-revenue ratios reported revenue declines between 2013 and 2014.
  • The variation in marketing-to-revenue ratios among these banks is huge.  American Express and Discover are primarily credit card issuers and lack branch networks; they tend to have marketing-to-revenue ratios of 8-10%, in line with fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) companies.  National bank marketing ratios tend to be around 3%, while regional bank ratios are generally between 1% and 2%.
  • Even within these  bank categories, there are significant variations.  Capital One is a regional bank with a very significant credit card portfolio, so its marketing-to-revenue ratio (6.1%) falls between a monoline and a regional bank.  Wells Fargo trailed its national bank peers in marketing spend.  Although it grew its 2014 marketing budget by 8% to $613 million, its marketing-to-revenue ratio remains below 1%.


Banks Cut Marketing Spending in Absence of Revenue Growth

EMI analyzed bank marketing data of 25 leading U.S. banks and found a 4% y/y decline in marketing expenditure for the first nine months of 2013.  During this period, marketing spending accounted for 2.6% of net revenues.

Our analysis finds that marketing expenditure levels and changes vary significantly by bank type .

  • Monolines: These banks are characterized as having a strong dependence on their credit card operations.  The three banks in this segment—American Express, Discover Financial and Capital One—allocated 7.8% of their revenues to marketing in the first 9 months of 2013.  Capital One’s spend levels are relatively lower, as it has transitioned over the past decade to be more like a full-service bank, with a network of 900+ branches.  The ‘monoline’ segment is also bucking the overall trend, with a 4% y/y rise in marketing spend.

  • National banks: These megabanks invest about 2% of revenues in marketing to promote their brands, support their extensive physical and virtual channels, and advertise their wide array of financial products and services.  As these banks (which include JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citigroup and Bank of America) are under pressure to maintain profitability in a low/no growth environment, they reduced marketing spend 8% y/y.  Wells Fargo stands out, insofar as its marketing spend as a percentage of revenues is much lower than its peers, as it has traditionally focused its revenue-generating activities on its branch network.  However, Wells Fargo was the only one of these four national banks to report y/y marketing growth for the first three quarters of 2013.

  • Regional banks: The 18 regional banks analyzed by EMI allocated 1.6% of their revenues to marketing over the first 9 months of 2013.  Under pressure to cut costs and maintain profitability in the absence of revenue growth, these regional banks cut marketing budgets by 13%, led by large regionals like KeyBank (-31%) and SunTrust (-29%).

The extent to which banks ramp their marketing spend will be based on whether they see significant revenue growth opportunities, which in turn is dependent on economic growth.  And there are some positive signs in this regard, with the OECD projecting that U.S. GDP growth will rise from 1.7% in 2013 to 2.9% in 2014 and 3.4% in 2015.