Credit card issuers focused on new customer acquisition; should not ignore portfolio management

Leading U.S. credit card issuers have been focused on growing cardholder spending volume in recent quarters (click here for our recent blog on strong growth in credit card volume for leading issuers), but there has yet to be an appreciable rise in outstandings. This is due to cardholders’ desire to reduce their debts, as well as residual reluctance on the part of issuers to open the lending spigot following the financial crisis.

However, we do note that several leading card issuers are ramping up their new customer acquisition efforts:

  • Bank of America grew new U.S. credit card accounts 17% between 2Q11 and 3Q11
  • Chase grew proprietary cards 20% y/y in first 9 months of 2011
  • Capital One card origination levels doubled between 3Q10 and 3Q11

Some of these issuers reduced their customer bases significantly in recent years, so this growth is in fact returning customer numbers to what the issuers would perceive to be normal levels.  The issuers have also focused customer acquisition efforts on certain segments of the market–such as affluents and small business–that they expect will be strong performers in the coming years.

Having concentrated on customer acquisition, it is vital that credit card issuers now also establish portfolio management strategies to maximize customer lifetime value. Effective portfolio management plans focus on three areas:

  • Activation (onboarding efforts, incentives to drive initial card usage)
  • Retention (communications and incentives around anniversaries, processes for handling cardholder complaints, and winback programs)
  • Relationship optimization (periodic special offers based on customer value and/or life events, targeted cross-sell/upsell offers, and consistent user experience across all customer touchpoints)

Use of Incentives: Proceed with Caution

Effective use of incentives like coffee cards and gas cards requires both an understanding of the strategic context and a feel for customer behavior. A simple assessment (high/moderate/low) of key variables will provide a clear picture of the applicability and potential desired magnitude of a campaign incentive.

The three most important variables (and their assessment scale) when weighing the value of incentives are:

  • The strategic value of the action to the company (a “high” assessment supports incentive use)
  • The perceived benefit of the action to the respondent (“low” supports incentive use)
  • The barrier(s) to desired action (“high” supports incentive use)

For example, compelling responses to a web-based market research survey have:

  • Moderate strategic value since it’s several steps removed from revenue generation
  • Low perceived benefit to the respondent
  • A high barrier to action assuming the survey is more than a few questions long

Together, these ratings point to this being a solid use of incentives.

On the other hand, a poor application of using an incentive would be to drive someone simply to visit a website or respond to an email: the strategic value is low because providing an incentive trains the customer/prospect to respond to incentives rather than content, the perceived benefit to the respondent is moderate, and the barrier to action is low.