10 Key Takeaways from the Latest Crop of Consumer Credit Cards

Leading U.S. credit card issuers continued to roll out new credit cards, as they look to attract new clients, cross-sell and upsell existing clients, and win a greater share of clients’ spending.  

The following are the common trends or standout elements that we identified among these new cards.  (Note that the table at the end of this blog provides a comparison of features/benefits of 10 cards that were introduced over the past 12 months.)

  1. Introductory offers are focused on generating balance transfer volume.  7 of the 10 cards have 0% introductory offers on either purchases and balance transfers or balance transfers only.  6 of these 7 introductory offers have a duration of at least 12 months.
  2. Go-to APRs continue to be prime-based and operate in a broad range.  The APR range of many of the new credit cards is at least 7 percentage points.  Two cards (American Express Cash Magnet®, and Wells Fargo Propel® American Express) have an APR range of 11 percentage points.
  3. Some cards offer a high earn rate on all purchases.  One approach to using rewards to attract and retain cardholders as well as drive more spending is to have an earn rate of more than 1% on all purchases.  The Citizens Bank Cash Back Plus® World Mastercard® stands out with an earn rate of 1.8% on all purchases with no limit and no annual fee.  The Barclaycard Arrival® Plus World Elite Mastercard® offers 2 miles per dollar on all spending, but carries an $89 annual fee (waived first year).
  4. Issuers continue to offer tiered earning structures.  To drive card preference and grow spending in categories where cards have traditionally had a low share, many new cards continue to use tiered rewards structures, with higher earning on categories like travel, gas, dining and groceries.  It is worth noting that these bonus earn rates do not come with monthly or annual spending caps.
  5. Acquisition-and-activation bonus offers persist.  Issuers continue to promote bonus points/miles/cash back for activating the card and meeting a minimum spend requirement within an initial period (typically three months).  Higher-end cards that carry an annual fee also tend to have higher bonus levels.  Wells Fargo Propel American Express Card is looking to differentiate itself from competitors with a dual bonus structure: acquisition-and-activation bonus of 30,000 points and an additional 20,000 points for reaching a spending threshold in the first 12 months.
  6. Cards are offering redemption bonuses.  Some issuers are looking at rewards redemption as an opportunity to engender loyalty and preference.  Cards are offering bonuses:
  7. Most cards have no annual fees, but the cards that do carry an annual fee provide more features, higher earn levels and larger bonuses.  Annual fees tend to be waived the first year, although Navy Federal Credit Union’s Visa Signature® Flagship Rewards card has a $49 annual fee and no waiver. 
  8. Most cards apply a fee on balance transfers, usually a rate of 3% with a minimum of $5 or $10.  Navy FCU’s Visa Signature Flagship Rewards has no BT fees.  For its SavorOne℠ Rewards Card, Capital One imposes a fee of 3% during the card’s 15 month introductory period.  After this introductory period, there is no fee on balance transfers.
  9. Like BTs, most cash advances come with a fee (of 3% or 5%, with minimums of $5 or $10).  Again, Navy FCU stands out with no fee on cash advances.
  10. No foreign transactions fees are quickly becoming the norm, even on non-travel-based cards.

Strategies for Marketing Your Financial Literacy Program

As financial institutions seek to position themselves as trusted providers of financial advice and solutions, one of their key areas of focus is financial education.  Many of these firms have focused attention on establishing comprehensive financial education programs.  However, equal attention should be given to how these programs are communicated.  If you want to maximize the impact of your financial education program, consider the following methods to build client awareness and engagement.

  • Partner with national and local organizations seeking to grow financial literacy. Partnering with these organizations can take many forms, including publishing surveys or providing funding. In June 2017, Wells Fargo announced a $100,000 donation to Junior Achievement of Chicago.  Operation Hope has partnerships with a number of leading banks (including SunTrust, Regions Bank and First Tennessee Bank), who all offer the Operation Hope Inside financial well-being program in several of their branches.
  • Host or sponsor events.  Events constitute one of the key ways for firms to build direct engagement with their financial education programs.  Firms have many options on how they wish to scale and direct their investment.  MassMutual hosts FutureSmart Challenge events to provide financial education to middle school students, reaching 40,000 students in 17 cities to date.  In June 2017, SunTrust launched the “onUp on Tour” to promote its onUp movement in 45 cities.  And In October 2017, American Century Investments partnered with Investopedia to launch a Financial Fitness Tour, featuring a 45-foot bus, called “The Financial Coach.”  These firms have extended the impact of these live events with tweets and postings on online portals, and also host virtual events, including podcasts and webinars.
  • Generate engagement through games and contests.  In our highly interactive world, online games and contests can be very effective in enabling people, especially the younger demographic, to gain important financial knowledge in entertaining ways.  For the past four years, H&R Block has been running the H&R Block Budget Challenge, an online game that teachers can use to teach financial concepts to high school students.  In December 2017, The Hartford partnered with Junior Achievement USA to launch JA MyBiz Builder, an online experience that teaches entrepreneurial concepts to teens.  And GOBankingRates recently launched a competition (with a top prize of $1,000) to identify the best tips, tricks and tactics for navigating one’s personal finances.
  • Reinforce the financial education message via social media.  A number of financial firms are using Twitter hashtags to generate interaction around their financial education programs. Examples include Ally Financial’s #WalletWiseWednesday twitter series and Regions Bank’s @FinancialFitness hashtag (part of its Financial Fitness Fridays program).  Other ways of using social media to promote financial education include events (Jump$tart Coalition’s Facebook Live event to discuss deposit insurance) and social communities (Canvas Designed by Citi, a beta-testing community that enables Citi customers to co-create products and digital capabilities promoting financial wellness).
  • Leverage online and mobile banking platforms.  As consumers become comfortable with using online and mobile banking to perform a wide range of financial activities, some providers are starting to incorporate financial education tools into these platforms.  Bank of America recently added a money management and financial education tool into its mobile banking platform.  And Wells Fargo is planning to launch Greenhouse by Wells Fargo, a mobile banking experience that includes financial management tools.

 

Investing in digital channels generates benefits for banks…but they should not abandon human channels

One of the most notable trends in leading U.S. banks’ quarterly earnings conference calls was the extent to which digital channels have become central to their current operations and future growth plans. The reason? Digital channels provide numerous benefits to banks, including:

  • Allowing banks to reduce branch density…and more easily expand into new markets. With the growth of online and mobile banking, branches account for a significantly decreased share of everyday banking transactions, so most banks have been able to reduce their branch density, which saves costs while enabling banks to maintain a physical presence in markets.  Bank of America reported that its branch network has declined from 6,100 to 4,400 during the past decade, but also referred to plans to open 500 branches in new markets.  Similarly, Regions discussed plans to open 20 de novo branches in new markets in 2018, while also closing 30-40 branches.
  • Building a national presence. Banks that already have a limited branch presence are looking to leverage their brand strength and develop a national presence by creating a digital bank. Citibank recently announced that it was creating a national digital bank. Similarly, PNC reported that it would begin rolling out a national digital strategy later in 2018, which it claimed would enable it to take advantage of its brand awareness and serve more customers beyond its traditional retail banking footprint.
  • Enhancing the customer experience. Banks are investing in digital service channels not only to provide a wider range of functionality to clients, but also to enrich the customer experience. In doing so, banks can improve customer satisfaction and boost retention levels.  Regions discussed its goal of providing a consistent experience, with customers seeing the same information and having access to the same capabilities across all channels. The shift to electronic self-service channels also reduces servicing costs; Citibank reported that call center volume fell by 12 million phone calls in 2017.
  • Communicating through new marketing channels. Banks are significantly changing their media mix and messaging to reflect the channels where people are now consuming information and entertainment, and to communicate to clients and prospects in fresh new ways. In its 1Q18 earnings conference call, BB&T discussed that it is ramping up its digital marketing campaigns; 86% now have a digital component.
  • Capturing new sales opportunities and lowering average cost per acquisition. As customers increasingly use digital channels for their banking activities, they become more receptive to using these same channels to open new accounts and/or upgrade existing products and services. As a result, many banks are reporting strong growth in digital sales. Wells Fargo recently launched a digital mortgage application and noted that 10% of its mortgage applications in March 2018 came through that capability. The number of BB&T business accounts opened online rose 43% y/y and retail savings accounts grew 96%. Bank of America reported that digital accounted for 26% of all sales. It also rolled out an auto shopping app, with auto loans sourced digitally accounting for 50% of all direct auto loan originations in the first quarter.

Banks Need an Integrated Digital-Human Channel Strategy

While strategic investments in digital channels can lead to significant bottom-line benefits, banks should be careful not see this progress as proof that they no longer need human channels. A recent J.D. Power survey found that satisfaction levels are lowest for retail banking clients who exclusively use online or mobile channels and highest for “branch-dependent digital customers.” Moreover, the gap in satisfaction levels is highest for Millennial customers, underscoring this demographic segment’s affinity for branches. And while digital sales for many banking products are growing strongly, human channels are still vital for a bank’s success.

This means that banks must develop an integrated channel strategy, with digital and human channels acting in synch—and indeed actively promoting each other. Bank of America provided a great example of this synergy in operation in its 1Q18 earnings conference call: clients used its digital channels to schedule an average of 35,000 branch appointments per week during the quarter.  Full integration of digital and human channels recognizes the particular strengths and limitations of different channels, and can optimize a bank’s return on its investments in marketing, sales and the customer experience.