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Credit Card Programs: Running With the Big Dogs

posted by Connie Thienes, Product Manager on Tuesday, January 16, 2018

This article first appeared in Credit Union Times on Dec. 8, 2017.

As the saying goes, to run with the big dogs, you have to get off the porch. No doubt, it's a challenge for smaller financial institutions to differentiate themselves from the pack when there are much bigger, stronger animals pushing you to the back.

Credit card teams know what I’m talking about.

It can feel almost impossible to get the product in front of members when Capital One, Chase – and now PayPal and Amazon – are flooding airwaves, social networks and inboxes with ridiculously impressive-sounding credit card and rewards offers.

Credit union people ask almost daily how they can compete with megabank and tech-giant credit card issuers. They aren't able to build apples-to-apples card programs. They simply can't afford it. But the good news is, going tit-for-tat in product development is rarely a smart strategy.

Today's financial consumers crave personalization. In fact, 67% of them told Accenture they demand it. There may be more choice for financial providers today than ever before. But credit unions have a huge advantage when it comes to the personalization game. That's because credit unions are built and managed by members for members. Financial services don't get more personal than that.

Remember, many people choose to do business with credit unions precisely because they are not big banks. Small credit unions can leverage that preference and focus on making service experiences as personal as possible. Consider a cardmember who wants to make a credit card payment in person at a branch. She can't do that with her Amex. She can with a credit union-issued card.

So, how does a credit union mobilize its personalized service advantage to craft a killer credit card program? I have a few ideas.

Surprise Yourself

First, dig into your membership. What kind of consumer segments are represented by the people who have already chosen membership? You may be surprised to find their preferences and needs don't even match up with the perks offered by your competitors.

Armed with this intelligence, you can then design and deploy a suite of credit card products around your members, not your competitors. Let's take, for example, a segment of the membership likely to revolve a balance. A credit card with really low rates and fees is going to push you to the front of the pack much faster than a 2% cash-back perk ever will.

Get Real About What's Good for Members

Cash-back cards like the glitzy new PayPal and Amazon products deliver revenue through interchange, and this is a really important consideration for credit union cards teams. Products like this require high spend to ensure profitability. Your cards team will need to be expert at (and comfortable with) executing ongoing, results-oriented spend campaigns. If high-spend doesn't describe your membership, or the membership you hope to attain, an aggressively marketed cash-back card feels, well, inauthentic and nowhere near personal.

By analyzing the membership's credit characteristics, bureau balances, types of cards held at other issuers and economic capacity, your credit union will be in a much better position to deliver on the growing demand for personalization.

Take It Slow

Don't feel like you have to be all things to all members at once. Building out your distinct suite of card products can – and probably should – be a tiered strategy. Start with the most predominant member segment. After all, that pool of individuals is probably the best reflection of your credit union's unique value proposition.

Credit unions live in a world with bigger, stronger animals. Yet, day after day, they get off the porch. Their Chihuahua legs work 10 times harder to stay in step with the Great Danes of the financial world. What propels credit union people is the knowledge we are doing good for members and for the cooperative. We are not predators. We are loyal, attentive and selfless. That is how we will continue to find our way to the front of the pack, and into the lives of happy members.

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