V.me: Issuers please give me your customers

Banks.. get serious about this. Why would you want to let Visa step all over your brand and start delivering services to consumers directly? This is the start of a major tipping point for Visa… the Top issuers are fuming… but Visa may be able to build consumer adoption ahead of banks pulling the plug on it.

16 Nov

Visa is an independent for profit company… they are on a tear with adjusted earnings up over 19% and the stock up over 40% for the year. Who are Visa’s customers? They are a network, created by banks.. but they only set rules.. historically they don’t have direct relationships with merchants or consumers; the issuing bank owns the consumer, and the acquiring bank owns the merchant. Their primary customer is therefore banks (issuing and acquiring).

With the CYBS purchase, Visa gained direct merchant relationships. CYBS at one time handled over 25% of eCommerce transactions. The “big 3” in online merchant services are now eBay (Paypal+GSI), Visa (CYBS) and Amazon. Visa is looking for ways to expand its network, services and revenue base. The expansion is very hard to do if you are dependent on your member banks, hence Visa is looking to establish a direct consumer touchpoint in line with Cybersource’s merchant capability.

In my very first blog (2009 Googlization of Financial Services),  I outlined both the alert service that Clairmail built for Visa, and the advertising/offer engine they had put in place. Neither the alert service nor the ad service had taken off as issuers were not exactly thrilled with expanding Visa’s services or opening the door to Visa’s efforts to communicate directly to consumers. Clairmail has since been acquired by Monitise ($173M in March 2012).  Monitise is the entity that build “Visa Offers” and initially was “the mobile horse” which Visa intended to ride … until they upgraded to Fundamo. Now Monitise seems to be focused on the offers product… (See Visa Mobile Strategy). Visa wants to get into the card linked offers business (Visa Offers, FreeMonee, Monitise,…), and has had the technology working for sometime, they also want to get into the wallet business. (see Battle of the Cloud)

Neither of these services are to the best interest of issuers, which is why we see a hodgepodge of small banks without the resources to properly digest the strategic impact, or build the technology themselves in this recent V.me “50 bank pilot”. Let me be crystal clear on what I believe Visa’s strategy is:

  1. establish direct consumer service
  2. start with eCommerce (autofill) functionality to speed checkout and improve conversion
  3. add alerts to give consumers knowledge of card transactions
  4. add incentives/offers in 18 months (they already have built the service)

This is why Visa hates the Google service.. it steps all over their plans online.. as well as at POS (not in scope for this blog).

Take a look at V.me terms and conditions. They have done a great job in obfuscating their strategy in this document, as it clearly states that issuers have control

These Terms do not amend or otherwise modify the cardholder agreement or any other terms and conditions of your Issuer. In the event of any inconsistency between these Terms and your cardholder agreement with your Issuer, these Terms govern as to the relationship between you and Visa solely with respect to V.me and your cardholder agreement with your Issuer governs as to the relationship between you and your Issuer. You are responsible for ensuring that your use of the Services complies with your cardholder agreement with your Issuer.

Visa Alerts is the service where banks should start to become concerned. For the first time, visa is creating a list of consumer names, emails (above) and mobile phone numbers. Alerts will start with card usage, and then they will morph into incentives and offers based on spending patterns. These incentives will be offered completely separate from the issuers. In the V.me privacy policy “We share some information, but not your full card number, with merchants you pay with V.me” and “We may contact you about your V.me account, service updates, and new V.me features”.

I’ve got news for the V.me participating banks.. why don’t you just give Visa your customer list and give them permission to use it as they want? You have just given Visa much more.. They can now act on transactions they see on the switch.

I see Visa quickly expanding the service beyond eCommerce to physical commerce primarily around offers and alerts. You will be able to redeem offers across any card stored in your V.me wallet.  This means that V.me will work without eCommerce merchant adoption… and could be a stand alone offers platform. Of course they don’t want to lead with this… but it is indeed where Visa sees the best margin.

Banks.. get serious about this. Why would you want to let Visa step all over your brand and start delivering services to consumers directly? This is the start of a major tipping point for Visa… the Top issuers are fuming… but Visa may be able to build consumer adoption ahead of banks pulling the plug on it.

There is certainly no reason to worry.. take a look at the participating merchants https://www.v.me/shopping/  not exactly a whose who of online merchants. Why is this? well my merchant friends are also aware of Visa’s efforts to do the incentive business and the last thing they want is another entity switching consumers to the lowest cost provider. V.me on an eCommerce perspective is fine.. but what Visa doesn’t realize is that Google, Paypal an Amazon all have this today. (ex Google has autofill in Chome browser and Android…). If Visa has trouble signing up its own CYBS merchants.. what issues do you think they will have in signing up with those on GSI?

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

 

 

Coupon Overload?

Well, FSIs and Card networks have finally gotten in the coupon/rebate game.. well sort of. Most have implemented along the lines of what I wrote about 2 years ago (See Googlizaiton of FS). Exception is Bank of America.. they have the best bank service by far. Merchant level incentives (ex 15% off your next purchase) seem to be the focus of Visa and Amex’s new service. Cardlytics provide a generic white label service along these lines to over 50 banks today (with much better usage than Visa/Amex).

Best Bank Coupon Service? Bank of America wins hands down

FSIs and Card networks have finally gotten in the coupon/rebate game..  sort of. Most have implemented along the lines of what I wrote about 2 years ago (See Googlizaiton of FS). Exception is Bank of America.. they have the best bank service by far.  Merchant level incentives (ex 15% off your next purchase) seem to be the focus of Visa and Amex’s LevelUp service. Cardlytics provide a generic white label service along these lines to over 50 banks today (with much better usage than Visa/Amex). From my previous blog above, the general flow:

1. Customer registers for service (credit card, mobile, ..) Accepts terms that allows for delivery of x advertisements  per month

2. Card Network acts as agency, coordinating merchants, promos and marketing spend

  • Merchants pre-pay for campaign settlement account
  • Cardlytics develop target promo and bid criteria: customer location, demographic, event transaction, …
  • A campaign function sits at “Network Switch”, listens to transaction traffic
  • Card transaction events are triggered based upon card registration status
  • Event gets sent to campaign engine.  AD triggered based upon criteria (Example. Shop at EXAMPLESTORE in next 5 hours and get 20% back)

3.  Redemption/ notification – Redemption server monitors transactions at Switch or at Bank Issuer Auth server

  • If Card transaction is for registered card it is sorted
  • Redemption engine finds that it Ad was sent to it, determines if transaction at EXAMPLESTORE meets threshold
  • If it is met, Campaign engine kicks transaction to MerchantAdvert service which bills merchant for AD and debits account for 10% credit plus fee.
  • Engine issues 10% credit to customer’s card account
  • Engine debits merchant account for fee + redemption amount
  • Notification message sent to customer that their card account has been credited for purchase and 10% discount.

Good news for merchants is that they pay only for purchases. Great CPA here. But a very poor customer experience.. getting credit either directly to your card.. or in Amex’s new program to a separate pre-paid card. Other limitation is that there can be no item level discounts.

Quite frankly I like Bank of America’s service much, much better. They are light years ahead of the other banks thanks to the efforts of people like Joe Giordano. Today, Bank of America customers can click on a coupon in coupons.bankofamerica.com and when you go to the grocery store, the discount item comes right off your bill. The company behind this is Zave Networks. Just fantastic stuff. Zave was the only company in IBM’s booth at the National Retail Federation (NRF) show. Given that IBM has 19 of the world’s top 20 retailers using its POS;. it is little wonder that IBM has embedded Zave in their OS.

Having run the online channel at 2 of the top 5 banks, I have a little idea of customer behavior and preferences. Banking customers visit frequently and may be able to have uptake of incentives, card customers have terrible online usage.. (1-2 times per month).. which is why the card companies are launching mobile services in cards so aggressively: they are trying to establish a new mobile behavior (ex mobile alerts on balances). The card coupon/incentive approach seems to have substantial risk, particularly when considering the poor customer interaction (on credit card), together with the very narrow market for incentives (apparel, restaurants), the competencies of the bank teams groups (campaign management) and customer preferences for debit.

Colloquy.com estimates that Banks and travel related industry spend about $48B per year on loyalty. Banks are running coupons programs primarily out of their existing “rewards” groups… with the hope of juicing rewards, as they reduce costs. With Debit interchange going down to $0.12 you can see the importance here.. either no rewards program at all, or one that is funded by another source. With Credit, loyalty programs are the primary customer driver both for card selection and use. Bank driven loyalty programs typically focus on redemption, not on the front side of selection. In other words, banks do not touch a customer prior to a purchase, but incent them afterwards.

From a retailer’s perspective what is the value of participating in a bank run a loyalty program?  Segments like apparel may gain traffic, but do you want your bank sending you an SMS ad for 10% off a nearby retailer/resturant everytime you pump gas? Possible, but more likely you will use the offerings from Google, Apple, Microsoft integrated with maps and comparison pricing. 10% off what? What do they have that I need? Most retailers are not big fans of banks, or their “incentive” plans. There are exceptions, particularly in apparel and restaurants (note restaurants are not considered retail). Overall this is less than $5B of $750B in US Marketing spend. I give the bank led initiatives about 6 months. When Google, Apple and MSFT come in with much richer services and focused teams. How many banks do you know with an campaign management group? … exactly. Visa had a tough time expanding into eCommerce (hence the CYBS acquisition), what makes them think they can run an advertising agency?

Sorry Amex, Visa, Cardlytics, FreeMonee, … Card driven models will have a very short life span. Exception is BofA both because of the bank (deposit) driven model and because of the item level integration with a partner (Zave/IBM) that knows retail. BAC will likely continue reign as  king of debit.. and even gain momentum.