BAC – Offers Success?

10 Years ago I was a banker in the room with Wal*Mart and they asked “what justifies any card taking a percentage of my sales”? “What customer have you ever brought me”?

4 June 2012

I’m using my new BankAmeriDeals and I like it.. really cool. Here is my WalMart redemption. What is success here? For Bank of America? For Wal*Mart?

10 Years ago I was a banker in the room with Wal*Mart and they asked “what justifies any card taking a percentage of my sales”? “What customer have you ever brought me”?

Will Card linked offers be the vehicle by which banks finally deliver value to retailers?

As I mentioned in my previous CLO Blog the average gross margin in Retail (globally) has gone from 4.2% in 2006 to 2.4% in 2010 (ref: IMAP’s Retail Industry Global Report 2010). Given this margin compression, and the fact that retailers spend very little of their own money on marketing, you can see why basket discounts are not widely used, but rather targeted. Given that this Wal*Mart incentive is for 5% cash back, it would seem to be somewhat unsustainable. Even worse.. it was given to every Bank of America Customer.

For this 5% cashback offer, Walmart receive no incremental spend, it was my wife’s normal trip to the grocery store. She didn’t even know I registered for this program.

Quiz time. Who funded the BAC WalMart offer?

1) Wal*Mart

2) Cardlytics

3) Bank of America

Yes it is #3 according to my sources. Bank of America is funding almost half of the incentives in their program, and they are not alone. Retailers are not advertising in the CLO space because of issues associated with “lift”, “reach”, targeting and distribution (outlined in my previous blog). BAC is not alone, rumors are that almost 50% of all CLOs are actually funded by the participating banks or even the venture money received by the “platforms”.  Wow..  I had no idea it was this bad.

My guess is that BAC will now have data to take to Wal*Mart and show what incremental spend they drove. Although 0 incremental spend for me, BAC will be able to show WMT that some consumers chose to switch their grocery purchase because of this 5% incentive. This will in turn lead to “targeting” of incentives to particular audiences and also lead PERHAPS to Wal*Mart participation.  I think this is a very smart move by BAC, and they are 3+ years ahead of this on debit.. all of the other banks are chasing the credit side.

The downside is that the retailers know this is a VERY SLIPPERY SLOPE.  Now that WMT participates.. the banks will go to the other grocers to switch them back.. and then these incentives will be an added cost of doing business for all who wish to influence highly elastic customers. The alternative is to target product level incentives to customer (item level) elasticities. This is what the retailers are planning to do outside of the CLO space, and why BAC will find few “takers” for this. Coupons.com is the leader in grocery space with Safeway and WMT, google is close behind with its recent Zave Networks acquisition and Inmar with recently purchase mdot.

Outside of grocery the same dynamic exists.. cards can indeed motivate a switching behavior with some customers.. but is this a Faustian bargain for retailers?

Take aways:

  • Card Linked Offers have a very long way to go
  • CLO Companies and the banks are paying for the incentives
  • BAC is only bank active for CLO on debit
  • … all of the other issues on value proposition mentioned in previous blog

 

 

Debit Fees – Newton’s third law in banking

In the next phase of bank plans, expect the Visa logo to disappear from the standard card issued for a base checking account. The card will operate as ATM card, just as it did 20 years ago. As a side note, the banks (and PIN Debit networks such as Star, Pulse, NYCE) will be working with merchants and processors to expand adoption of PIN Debit separate from the card networks.

2016 – This post is 4+ years old now.. I wouldn’t take it too seriously.. but good historical context

1 October 2011

First… 2 paragraphs of venting and perspective.

I was quite surprised to see BAC’s $5/mo debit card fee on the national news today. Personally, I think it is a great thing.. customers should pay for services they want to use.. sticking the merchant with the cost of debit leads to some very poor incentives. One of the biggest “innovation stifling” problems we have in the US is that consumers don’t care about prices, for things they should (payments,  health care, fraud, education, … ). The cause? the direct costs are hidden. Once consumers bear direct costs for services, market forces can take hold.

This is not to say I’m a supporter for HOW the Durbin change came about.. Dodd-Frank, Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act represent the most sweeping changes to financial regulations in the United States since the Great Depression. From my perspective the timing could not have been worse. Did Congress think  the banks would just sit on the sidelines and patiently suffer? After being forced by regulators to act in good faith and “acquire” ailing community members like Country Wide? To suffer again as State AGs and the CPFB go after them for a few billion more (robo-signing).  Retail banking is becoming a very unattractive business, particularly in the lower mass market segments.  For the recovery to take hold, we need banks to be healthy…  these are not a bunch of “fat cat” millionaires.. but a core component of commerce that is instrumental in managing the lifeblood of our economy.

Debit Reaction.. equal and opposite

Well the banks have reacted to the finalization of Durbin fees. As I related in my previous blog on Debt, the fee plans have been in the works for some time, and for good reason: the lower mass segments are no longer profitable. US banks are well capitalized…. with excess liquidity, and a cost of funds near zero. There is very little incentive for them to seek to increase their deposit base (improve liquidity ratio). The core issue in retail banking profitability is asset quality (few qualified people to lend to… who want a loan). This is even more true now that Dodd-Frank has virtually gutted retail banking fees.  Two excellent articles below detail the role of transaction revenue and service fees in retail banking.

http://www.bai.org/bankingstrategies/payments/general/protecting-dda-profitability

http://www.novantas.com/article.php?id=317

http://www.standardandpoors.com/ratings/articles/en/us/?assetID=1245235038776

Of course not all consumers will be paying this $5/mo cost. For example, the folks reading this blog will likely have account relationships that warrant a fee exception. Mass market customers will likely be up in arms and seek to move their accounts.. believe it or not.. this is what the large banks want to happen since many of the lower tier customer segments are no longer profitable.

See this American Banker Article for more detail on alternatives to mass market customers

In the next phase of bank plans, expect the Visa logo to disappear from the standard card issued for a base checking account. The card will operate as ATM card, just as it did 20 years ago. As a side note, the banks (and PIN Debit networks such as Star, Pulse, NYCE) will be working with merchants and processors to expand adoption of PIN Debit separate from the card networks.

Market Forces in Payment

Now that consumers have to bear the costs of using a Debit Card. They have new choices:

1) Use credit card. This would be best for the banks, and perhaps best for the consumer as they collect merchant funded card reward points. The looser here is obviously the merchant. An important point  to make here is that this is exactly the strategy behind new NFC based mobile payment types.. there are NO NFC enabled debit cards.. banks and the networks want you using your phone for payment to drive credit card usage.  This is also the strategy behind Visa’s new EMV mandate, to drive retailer reterminalization. This will be a subject of a future blog.

2) Leave the bank and use pre-paid cards. This will certainly be the path for many lower mass customers

3) Pay the fee

4) Improve your relationship with the bank to meet a threshold and avoid the $60/yr fee.

5) Shift your transactional relationship to new “non bank” structures like PayPal or Google Wallet (both of which are licensed MSBs in all 47 states).

Downside for banks

CEOs make decisions based on data they have. The first 4 options have all been through. I would profer that creating a market for new competitors has not. I outlined in my previous blog “Banks will WIN in payments.. but WHICH ones”  that banks are firmly in the position of control today.  However there is a strong correlation between control and value delivered. In my upcoming blog I’ll describe how to value a payment network. My view is that payments are on a course of a utility service (i.e. dumb pipes with least cost routing), and that payment services are only the last step of a much more important commerce interaction. Any network business is highly dependent on balancing a value proposition between participants. Today retailers and consumers are not pleased. I only wish I could tell of you the wonderful things I’m seeing in Silicon Valley… IT IS NOT about technology.. but about creating business value.

Within 5 years, I see the strong possibility that a new network which will be able to PAY merchants for accepting a payment method..  (see my 2009 Blog on Googlization of Payments).

BTW… sorry for the lack of content this last month.. I have 15 page blog I’m about to publish.. I will never again try to write so much in one article.

Clearxchange – Bank Strategy Perspective

The service is very solid, but I do wonder what the retail wires group must think. Most bank services today allow for transfers to and from accounts I own at other FSIs (we call this A2A). Now I can transfer money to anyone via mobile with no fee (p2p). What about P2B and impact on Debit? For example, eBay purchase? Or how about at a store? If I can send money to a person with no fee.. what prevents use on Debit? Because of Durbin making Debit “almost free” is there an incentive to create a new payment network?

28 May 2011

As I related in last week’s Post, Clearxchange (let’s call it CX) evolved out of the online/mobile payment groups at Wells and BAC.  I also described how bank’s will “Win in Payments” along with a high level view on internal bank dynamics which drive Debit/ACH vs. Credit payments strategy, as well as the fragmentation that is occurring in “unprofitable” payments like ACH, carrier billing and P2P… etc.

Consortiums are not the most nimble of creatures. Banks also have the tendency to follow the lead of the big 3 (BAC, WFC, JPM) in all things retail. BAC/WFC are well positioned to execute in CX, and certainly have a sufficient customer base to make CX work. Their addition of JPM (and associated QuickPay) and the creation of a separate entity also aligns well with getting something done quickly. Developing CX within an existing bank consortitum could have taken much longer than 2 years to get a common bank service built… This “build it and they will come” approach is how many of today’s bank services get their start (visa, interlink/debit/ , clearing house, …).

Unfortunately, CX does not have a sustainable “stand alone” business case. Because it was completed within the channel organizations, business strategy (with the LOBs) was not well coordinated with the other LOBs (exception is JPM, the top bank in payments strategy). I’ve actually made 5 CX payments on launch day already. In BAC, just go to internal transfers and fill out the form on the left (did you receive a transfer). I clicked yes as it did not require an accurate answer in the Ts&Cs..

The service is very solid, but I do wonder what the retail wires group must think. Most bank services today allow for transfers to and from accounts I own at other FSIs (we call this A2A). Now I can transfer money to anyone via mobile with no fee (p2p). What about P2B and impact on Debit? For example, eBay purchase? Or how about at a store? If I can send money to a person with no fee.. what prevents cannibalization of Debit? Because of Durbin making Debit “almost free” is there an incentive to create a new payment network?

My sources tell me that there has been very little planning around CX (outside of JPM) to answer these questions. Not only were people with the big 3 banks scrambling to explain the service internally, their CEOs were getting called by peer banks about why their bank had not been asked to join? While banks are not free from anti-trust concerns.. payments is a network business that requires broad participation. The CX announcement comes at a rather sensitive time for them, as Jamie Dimon chairs The Clearing House meetings, there is little doubt that TCH has also served a forum for coordination on all retail payment “industry matters” like Durbin.  Can you imagine working with JPM, BAC and WFC in TCH meeting on retail debit strategy.. then hearing they have a new service rolled out without your knowledge? Not the most polite thing to do.

It certainly was not Jamie’s fault (my favorite bank CEO by far.. fellow Citi alum).. but rather the poor “payments” coordination within banks. In my previous blog Bank’s Need Payment Councils, I laid out how these bank teams had worked historically. CX is a fantastic idea.. and it could even evolve into a profitable service if banks can improve the way the coordinate internally. This is a CEO level decision.. no one wants to tell the CEO that he needs to create a cross LOB council to coordinate payment strategy.. The Citi approach is much more “get a guy to own it”.. like Wayne at Citi, Vin at Chase, or Steve at WFC. But decisions that impact multiple LOBs are very challenging to coordinate across the organization.. CX is the manifestation of just such a dynamic (better to get something done.. then work in a bank committee that never makes a decision).

I’ve been getting called this week on “what is the CX strategy”? The answer depends on who you talk to. BAC has a number of debit/retail payment initiatives.. and there are certainly overlaps..

–          New Visa Debit with BAMS/First Data

–          Visa Money Transfers (directly competes with CX)

–          CX

–          Internal Payment Warehouse (3 yrs in making)

–          Cashedge (A2A money transfers)

–          Pariter (On we w/ WFC)

–          NFC Credit w/ Visa and Device Fidelity

–          …

If banks have trouble coordinating internally.. the situation certainly does not improv

e when 20+ of them get together to set a strategy. Of course this “least common denominator” is why today’s existing payment network is both rigid and resilient. What the banks really need is a firm “platform” vision for payments that they own. For example, what if I broke payments into 3 broad categories: pay before, pay now, pay later? Having multiple products that compete in these categories is a sign of a good healthy market.. having multiple networks process the payment is NOT (only some of which are bank owned). As a side note, there is little reason to doubt that there will be SUBSTANTIAL consolidation surrounding the 6 major debit networks (Visa, Pulse, Star, NYCE…)

My top idea for CX to drive a little incremental revenue?  2 years ago, Metavante (now FIS) negotiated a PayPal deal that would provide for revenue sharing for eBay merchant payment.. PayPal collects 3%+fees and would share 30-50% with FIS. Why would the banks not want to do this? The original plan had more to do with this happening over bill pay.. but a transfer probably makes more sense.  Either way, the banks should jump on this kind of opportunity. My #2 idea.. well I’m only telling my customer this one.. (my poor attempt at a tickler).

Happy Memorial Day

– Tom

Debit Card in Peril?

The biggest story of the week has largely gone unreported. Bank of America (BAC) has taken a $10.3B goodwill impairment charge in 3Q. What does this mean for Visa? Not Good News.

27 October 2010

The biggest story of the week has largely gone unreported. Bank of America (BAC) has taken a $10.3B goodwill impairment charge in 3Q.

The Merchant Payments Coalition responded to the impairment charge (reference above)

“With a Federal Reserve decision on debit interchange rates not expected until mid-2011, today’s claims by Bank of America dramatically overstate reality and represent a feeble attempt to divert attention from its mortgage foreclosure problems,” said Doug Kantor, counsel to the Merchants Payments Coalition.

In the 8-K, Bank of America said it plans to take (ref The Street)

 “a number of actions that would mitigate some of the impact when the laws and regulations become effective,” but it didn’t provide details about what those actions might be.

Will write more later, but I can assure you BAC is looking for debit alternatives. Given their size, most anticipate a new product driven from both their retail and global card team (including merchant services). So in addition to AT&T/Discover, we will now have another major bank led team developing a new payment product with a multi billion dollar incentive.

What does this mean for MA and Visa? Not good news for US growth.

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