An Analysis of Leading U.S. Banks’ 2018 Marketing Spending

EMI analyzed 2018 marketing spend by 27 of the leading U.S. banks, and found that most banks are ramping up their investment in marketing.  The rise in marketing budgets is driven by a number of factors, including:

  • The continued growth of the U.S. economy.
  • The ongoing scaling back of bank’s branch networks.  This reduces their on-the-ground presence, so banks need to invest more in marketing to maintain brand awareness.  In addition, cost savings from smaller branch networks can be redirected to other functions, including marketing.
  • The need for established banks to reposition themselves in a changing financial services ecosystem, characterized by the emergence of fintech firms and direct (branchless) banks.

Overall, marketing spending by the banks rose 13% to $13.0 billion in 2018. 

  • 17 banks grew their marketing budgets.
  • 14 banks increased their marketing spend by double-digit rates, led by Wells Fargo (+40%), BBVA Compass (+34%) and Capital One (+30%).

5 banks spent more than $1 billion on marketing: JPMorgan Chase ($3,290MM), American Express ($2,578MM), Capital One ($2,174MM), Bank of America ($1,513MM) and Citibank ($1,419MM).

The 27 banks’ cumulative marketing spend represented 2.9% of their 2018 net revenues, which represents a 17 basis point rise from the banks’ 2017 marketing ratio. 

  • The marketing ratios of the 27 banks ranged from 11.2% for American Express to 1.0% for Wells Fargo. 
  • A majority of the banks (16 of the 27) had marketing ratios in the 1.5% – 2.5% range.

The variation in marketing ratios is due to on a number of factors, including product concentration, size of branch networks, perceived importance of strong brand equity, as well as the timing of marketing investments (such as the launch of new advertising campaigns).

  • For example, American Express and Discover have no branch networks, are primarily focused on selling credit and charge cards, and have traditionally invested to maintain strong brand awareness. Therefore, their marketing ratios are more in line with fast moving consumer goods firms, rather than financial institutions.

15 banks increased their marketing ratios between 2017 and 2018.

  • Wells Fargo, which has traditionally had a low marketing ratio as it focused resources of its large branch network, increased its marketing spend by 40% to more than $850 million in 2018, and its marketing ratio grew by 30 bps.  The strong rise in spend was in large part due to the launch of the “Re-Established” integrated marketing campaign in May 2018.  It is worth noting that Wells Fargo remains well below national bank peers, such as JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America.
  • Other banks with strong increases in their marketing ratios include Capital One (+161 bps to 7.7%) and BBVA Compass (+57 bps to 3.3%).

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%.