10 takeaways from leading credit card issuer 2Q15 financials

The major U.S. credit card issuers have now published their quarterly financials.  A review of these reports by EMI revealed the following 10 trends:

  1. Outstandings are growing. Credit card loan growth is once again being led by regional bank card issuers (such as SunTrust and Wells Fargo who tend to cross-sell cards to existing bank customers), as well as card “monolines” (such as Capital One and American Express). Banks with national credit card operations report lower growth (or even declines) as a result of the lingering effects from the financial crisis, runoff of promotional rate balances, as well as high payment rates. But even here we are seeing signs of growth: although Bank of America reported a 1% y/y decline in average outstandings, it also reported its largest quarter for new account origination since the fourth quarter of 2008.
  2. Volume continues to grow, but with some slowdown. Some leading issuers continue to grow volume at double-digit rates (Wells Fargo grew loans and volume by 15%, boosted in part by the bank’s acquisition of the Dillard’s portfolio). Other issuers had lower volume growth, and many pointed to the impact of lower gas prices. For example, Discover reported volume growth of just 2%, but absent gas prices, this growth was 5%.card_volume_2Q14-2Q15
  3. Net charge-off rates continue to decline to historic lows. For many leading issuers, net charge-off rates are well below historic norms. In addition, the rates continue to decline; of the 13 issuers studied, 12 reported year-on-year charge-off rate declines.
  4. 30+ day delinquency rates are also declining. Delinquency rates tend to be a leading indicator of future charge-offs, so it is notable that 30+ day delinquency rates continue to decline.
  5. The profit picture is mixed for issuers. Six leading issuers provide credit card profitability data, as they operate standalone payment units. Four of the six issuers reported y/y declines in profitability as growing expenses exceeded revenues. However, Chase increased net income  for its Card Services unit by 33%, driven by lower costs (9% decline in noninterest expense, and 10% fall in provision for loan losses). American Express grew its U.S. Cards net income by 15%, as revenue growth of 6% and a 4% decline in provisions exceeded a 4% increase in noninterest expense.
  6. Growth in lending and volume are driving revenue growth. In the wake of the 2008 Financial Crisis and subsequent industry retrenchment, credit card industry revenues fell significantly. As the economy stabilized and then grew, leading issuers continued to struggle to attain revenue growth. Now the return to outstandings growth, as well as continued loan growth, is finally enabling issuers to increase revenues.
  7. To support this revenue growth, card issuers’ noninterest expenses are increasing. The rise in revenues is driving growth in expense areas like marketing and rewards costs. Of the five issuers providing noninterest expense data, four reported y/y increases, led by Discover (+18%) and U.S. Bank (+13%).
  8. Provisions for loan losses are (mainly) decreasing. As net charge-off and delinquency rates continue to decline, three issuers reported y/y declines in their provisions for loan losses. However, Capital One and U.S. Bank increased provisions, with Capital One growing provisions by 69%.
  9. Issuers are increasing credit card yield. Of the seven leading issuers who reported card yield in their financials, six reported y/y growth. The exception was Wells Fargo, which had the highest yield in 2Q15. However, five of the seven reported q/q declines; the exceptions were Fifth Third and SunTrust, which had the lowest yield among reporting issuers.
  10. Issuers are using a range of channels for new account acquisition. In general, cards issuers are continuing to reduce their dependence on direct mail for new card acquisition, and are focusing more investment on digital and branch channels. Chase reported that its online channel accounted for 62% of new card accounts in 2Q15. Even though Citi is continuing to cut its U.S. branch network, it reported that credit card acquisition via branches was up 10% on a same-store basis.

Leading credit card issuer 3Q14 performance: key takeaways

EMI analysis of the leading U.S. credit card issuers’ latest quarterly financials—as well as FDIC call reports—revealed the following trends in outstandings, volume and charge-off rates. According to the latest call report data from the FDIC, end-of-period outstandings rose 0.9% between 3Q13 and 3Q14.  Three of the four issuer segments grew card loans, with the Big Four issuers continuing to act as a brake on stronger overall growth.


  • End-of-period card loans for the Big Four issuers (Chase, Bank of America, Citi and Capital One, which account for 66% market share) fell 1%.  Chase and Capital One reported loan growth (+3% and +4% respectively), while Citi (-6%) and Bank of America (-1%) continued to decline.
  • The four main card “monolines” had the strongest loan growth, led by Barclaycard (+32%) and Synchrony (+24%).  American Express and Discover each reported 7% growth.
  • The super-regionals maintained their strong loan growth rate, with Wells Fargo rising 11% (maintaining its strong recent momentum) and U.S. Bank up 5%.
  • Other regional bank card issuers* had steady card growth.  Within this segment, SunTrust was the standout performer, up 22% y/y.  Other regionals banks with relatively strong credit card loan growth included PNC (up 5% to $3.9 billion), Fifth Third (rise of 7% to $2.1 billion) and Regions (+8%, to $0.9 billion).

Bank cards issuers are ramping up efforts to cross-sell credit cards to existing banking customers.

  • Wells Fargo is leading this push, with its credit card penetration of retail banking households reaching 40% in 3Q14 (up from 28% in 3Q11).  To target its affluent clients, Wells Fargo recently launched American Express-branded credit cards.
  • Regional banks are seeking to replicate the approach of the super-regionals; Regions reported that credit card penetration was 15% in 3Q14, up two percentage points y/y.
  • Even the top issuers are looking to tap into cross-sell opportunities: Bank of America reported that 64% of new cards issued in 3Q14 were to existing bank clients.

In recent years, issuers have focused much more on growing volumes rather than loans.  Even as issuers are now refocusing on growing outstandings, they continue to seek to grow card volume, through tiered rewards programs and acquisition/activation offers.  Issuers leading the way include Capital One (17% y/y rise in general-purpose card volume), Wells Fargo (+16%), Chase (+12%) and American Express (+9%). Credit card charge-offs rates continue to decline, with the scale and duration of the decline surprising the issuers themselves.  Of the 13 issuers in the table below, seven had 3Q14 charge-off rates below 3%, and eight of the issuers reported y/y declines.


Issuers continue to focus outstandings growth on higher-FICO segments, with some exceptions.

  • Big Four Issuers: For Bank of America, outstandings for the 740+ FICO segment rose 5%, but outstandings fell 6% for the <740 segment.  However, Chase bucked the general trend with stronger growth for the <660 FICO segment.


  • Monolines and super regionals: both Discover and Wells Fargo reported strong outstandings growth between end-3Q13 and end-3Q14, with stronger growth performance for higher FICOs.


  • Other regional bank card issuers: PNC and SunTrust following the general pattern, with stronger outstandings growth for higher FICOs.  However, Regions’ <620 segment outstandings rose 22% (albeit from a low base).


  * Other Regional issuer segment comprised of the following banks: TD Bank; PNC; Fifth Third; BB&T; Citizens Bank; Regions; SunTrust; Commerce Bank; KeyBank; and BBVA Compass.

Four Takeaways from Credit Card Issuer 1Q14 Financials

The following are four key takeaways from the 1Q14 financials for 13 U.S. banks with significant credit card operations.

  1. Some improvement in outstandings performance
  2. Continued volume growth
  3. Charge-off rates at or below historic norms
  4. Little change in industry profitability

Average outstandings for the 13 issuers in 1Q14 were unchanged y/y, an improvement from a 2% y/y decline in 4Q13.

  • For the four largest issuers—Chase, Bank of America, Citi and Capital One—the rate of decline in average outstandings improved from 5% in 4Q13 to 3% in 1Q14.  Capital One highlighted progress made in working through run-off portions of the acquired HSBC portfolio, and it expects outstandings growth in the second half of 2014.  Other issuers are ramping up new account production: Bank of America originated more than 1 million new accounts for the third consecutive quarter, while Chase opened 2.1 million new accounts in 1Q14, 24% higher than 1Q13.
  • For Tier 2 bank card issuers—Wells Fargo and U.S. Bank—the rate of outstandings growth rose from 7% in 4Q13 to 8% in 1Q14.  Wells Fargo benefitted from the continued growth in credit card penetration of its retail banking households, which rose from 34% in 1Q13 to 38% in 1Q14.
  • Similarly, regional bank card issuers grew average loans 6% in 1Q14, compared to 5% in 4Q13.
  • Credit card loan growth rates for the former ‘monolines’—American Express and Discover—were unchanged at 4%.

Eight leading issuers reported 7% y/y growth in credit card volume in 1Q14, slightly lower than the 4Q13 increase.  Three issuers—Wells Fargo, Chase and U.S. Bank—reported double-digit percentage growth in 1Q14.  In general, issuers appear committed to continuing to push volume growth, as evidenced by the launch of new rewards cards with strong earnings potential (e.g., American Express Everyday), as well as enhancements to existing rewards programs.

12 of the 13 issuers reported y/y declines in net charge-off rates in 1Q14.

  • 12 issuers now have charge-off rates below 4%.  The only major issuer with a charge-off rate above 4% is Capital One, who reported that the acquired HSBC card portfolio added about 25 basis points to its charge-off rate in 1Q14. It expects that the impact of this portfolio would be mostly gone by the end of the second quarter.
  • 10 reported charge-off rate increases between 4Q13 and 1Q14. This were attributed to seasonality, as well as indications that rates are starting to move back towards normalized levels as issuers seek to build outstandings growth.
  • However, it is worth noting that delinquency rates—which have traditionally been a leading indicator of future directions in charge-off rates—continue to decline on both a y/y and q/q basis for most issuers.

The six issuers who provide card-related revenue and cost information, reported that card profitability was virtually unchanged between 1Q13 and 1Q14.  Revenue growth remains elusive, declining 1%, as net interest income fell 2%.  The relatively strong rise in card volume did not translate into similar growth in noninterest income, as issuers are enhancing their rewards programs, which eats into interchange income (e.g., Discover reported that its rewards rate 11 bps y/y to 1.03% in 1Q14).  Noninterest expenses (reported by five issuers) were unchanged y/y, while provisions for loan losses rose 6%, as issuers anticipate future charge-off increases.