As we enter 2022, it is worthwhile to look back on the key trends in the U.S. payments space during the past quarter, as many of these trends should continue this year.
Key credit card metrics continued to improve.
According to the FDIC, credit card outstandings rose 1.2% y/y (to $806 billion) in 3Q21, the first y/y growth rate since the first quarter of 2020.
The Federal Reserve Bank of New York reported that the credit card application rate rose throughout 2021, reaching 26.5% in October 2021 (a significant change when compared to the series low of 15.7% in October 2020)
Purchase volume rose at a 20%+ rate for most leading issuers in 3Q21
Charge-off rates remained at or near at historic lows.
Leading issuers launched new credit cards to fill gaps in their product portfolios and upgraded existing cards in key categories.
Wells Fargo launched a low-rate card called Reflect, featuring an 18-month 0% introductory rate that will rise to 21 months for cardholders who make payments on time.
U.S. Bank launched secured card versions of two existing unsecured credit cards; Altitude Go and Cash+.
Climate change-focused challenger bank Aspiration introduced the Aspiration Zero Card.
The Buy Now/Pay Later (BNPL) market continued to grow and evolve, with traditional payments players (e.g., Capital One, Mastercard) announcing plans to introduce BNPL options. Existing BNPL players reciprocated by launching card and pay-in-full options (e.g., Klarna announced plans to introduce a debit card and Affirm announced a pay-in-full option).
Gen Z and Millennials have emerged as key targets for both established and emerging payments firms.
American Express reported that spending by Gen Z and Millennials rose 38% between 2Q19 and 2Q21, while Baby Boomer spending declined over the same period. And perhaps more significantly, Gen Z and Millennials accounted for 75% of new Platinum cardmembers.
TransUnion reported Gen Z and Millennials accounted for 47% of total credit card originations in 2Q21, up from 39% in 2Q19.
However, it appears that traditional banks have not yet adapted their underwriting processes to capture this segment. A survey by Alliance Data found that 27% of Gen Zers claim to have been turned down when applying for their first credit card, a rate two times the level of any other generation.
The strong growth in digital payments (which accelerated during the pandemic) continued in 4Q21:
eMarketer predicts that U.S. e-commerce sales will pass $1 trillion in 2022.
Leading person-to-person payments provider Zelle processed $127 billion of payments in 3Q21, up 53% y/y.
We expect that most of these payments trends will continue in 2022 as consumer behaviors and preferences continue to be reshaped by the COVID-19 pandemic, and established and emerging payments providers adapt their solutions, offers and messaging to these market dynamics.
As the U.S. economic recovery picked up speed in the third quarter of 2021, the decline in commercial line utilization that had taken place throughout the pandemic started to bottom out. Even though commercial loans continue to decline on a year-over-year (y/y) basis, banks are reporting very strong growth in their commercial loan pipelines. In the expectation that economic growth will continue to recover and this will translate to growth in commercial loans, banks are already starting to position themselves to capture their share of this growth.
With this in mind, the following is a list of five commercial banking initiatives that banks pursued in the third quarter of 2021:
Revisiting commercial banking capabilities. In a commercial banking environment characterized by changing customer priorities, the advent of innovative financial technologies and the emergence of new competitors, many banks are revisiting their commercial banking value proposition. This is seen in the articulation of new commercial banking strategies in recent company filings and investor presentations as well as in recent commercial banking videos from banks like Truist and Citi.
Publishing industry-specific thought leadership. By focusing resources on industries that have strong growth potential and/or that are under-served, banks can improve ROI. One of the best ways to build engagement within these sectors is by publishing industry-specific content (e.g., articles, blogs, newsletters, reports, podcasts and webinars). Many banks also look to turn this content into a prospect generation tool by listing relevant executives (often with email and direct phone numbers) in these publications.
Developing a series of branded content, which both increases awareness of this content and facilitates promotion across multiple platforms. Examples of branded content series include:
Providing value-added treasury management and commercial payment tools. With businesses increasingly comfortable with applying new technology solutions to enhance business efficiency and productivity, banks have launched a number of treasury management and commercial payment tools, including:
Increasing focus on ESG. In addition to annual ESG and CSR reports, many banks are publishing ESG-related content for their commercial clients. Examples in 3Q21 included Bank of the West’s Means & Matters Stories of Money and Sustainability and the BMO Harris Sustainability Leaders podcast. Citizens went even further by launching Green Deposits for its corporate clients.
EMI’s annual analysis of marketing expenditure for 25 leading U.S. banks reveals that they grew marketing spending by 7% in 2019 to $15.4 billion. This rate was down from the 13% growth between 2017 and 2018.
The banks’ marketing ratio (defined as advertising and marketing spend as a percentage of net revenue) has risen steadily in recent years, growing 18 basis points (bps) to 2.92% in 2018, and by an additional 21 bps to 3.13% in 2019.
The chart below summarizes marketing ratios, marketing budgets and y/y change in marketing spending for these 25 banks.
The following are some additional takeaways from our bank marketing spend analysis:
16 of the 25 banks increased their marketing spending in 2019, with 5 increasing their budgets by more than 10%.
6 banks invested more than $1 billion in advertising and marketing. Wells Fargo joined this group for the first time in 2019, with marketing spending rising by 26%, driven in large part by the launch of the ‘This is Wells Fargo’ integrated marketing campaign in January 2019 . It has invested strongly in advertising in recent years as it seeks to rebuild its reputation following the fallout from fake account and mortgage mishandling scandals.
11 banks increased their marketing ratios in 2019, with 6 of these growing the ratios by more than 10 basis points. The largest rise was reported by Bank of America, whose 15% increase in its marketing spend led to a 38 bps rise in its marketing ratio (to 2.3%).
Banks that do not have branch networks and have national credit card franchises (American Express and Discover) had the highest marketing ratios. Capital One’s credit card bank charter – Capital One Bank (USA), National Association – had a marketing ratio of 10.3% in 2019, while its retail banking charter – Capital One, National Association – had a ratio (3.2%) more in line with peer regional banks.
It is almost impossible to project bank marketing spending for 2020, given the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the U.S. economy in general, and the banking sector in particular. In the short term, marketing budgets will trend downwards as bank revenues are impacted by decreased economic activity. However, unlike the 2018-09 Financial Crisis, the country’s fundamentals were strong heading into this disruption, which increases optimism that the economy can recover quickly once the pandemic abates. This may lead to a robust bank marketing spending in the second half of 2020. What is more clear is banks will continue to shift their marketing budgets from traditional media (e.g., TV and print) to digital and other nontraditional media.