How to make your card customers’ first choice

Wallet and credit cards

Your community bank’s credit and debit cards go wherever your customers make transactions, including at online retailers, in mobile wallets and more. How do you ensure your card is your customers’ first choice when there are more options than ever before?

By Katie Kuehner-Hebert


There’s no shortage of platforms where customers spend their money. Shouldn’t your community bank’s credit and debit cards follow suit? Banks employ a variety of strategies to be “top of wallet,” no matter if customers put their cards on file with online retailers, within a mobile wallet or make in-person transactions.

To be top of wallet for debit cards, banks must foster strong relationships with customers, anchored by primary checking accounts that they use most of the time, says Chris Doyle, president and CEO of $1.5 billion-asset Texas First Bank in Texas City, Texas. “Unless you control payments, you’re going to lose deposit market share,” he says. “Being top of wallet allows you that control.”

“Unless you control payments, you’re going to lose deposit market share. Being top of wallet allows you that control.”
—Chris Doyle, Texas First Bank

To encourage greater use of debit cards, the community bank partners with Kasasa to offer cash back checking accounts depending on a minimum number of transactions and other qualifiers, says Lela Snyder, senior vice president for Texas First Bank. Customers also have the ability to place their card within a mobile wallet.

The bank boosts credit card utilization by offering ScoreCard Rewards, in which customers earn points each time they use their credit cards, which they can redeem.

Snyder adds, “Points can also be redeemed by playing games on the ScoreCard Rewards website.”

Tying strong customer service to cards

Community bankers are in the best position to be top-of-wallet issuers because they excel at knowing their customers, says Damon Moorer, president and CEO of TCM Bank, a Tampa, Fla., subsidiary of ICBA Bancard that offers a credit card agent program.

Strategies to increase card utilization include keeping products and features relevant and offering a diverse product suite to appeal to a variety of customer profiles, with cards based on cashback, travel, rate and affinity. “Utilize targeted, prescriptive messaging to uniquely highlight the value proposition to each customer segment,” he adds.

Banks should also leverage technology, such as mobile capabilities and contactless cards, to increase ease of use and “to maximize the ‘cool’ factor,” Moorer says. Card enhancements like cell phone protection, travel insurance and concierge services add value with minimal expense.

Manish Nathwani, senior vice president of product development at Shazam in Des Moines, Iowa, says banks can enhance their chances of being top of wallet by offering chip-card solutions (contact and contactless), PIN protection for additional security, and cards that have wide acceptance across geographies and channels.

“Banks can also offer value-added services, such as easy-to-dispute resolution services, fraud protection services and purchase protection, such as PayPal purchase protection when using the bank’s card on PayPal,” Nathwani says. “Banks can also increase utilization of their cards by offering mobile apps for person-to-person payments.”

In Scotia, N.Y., $483 million-asset 1st National Bank of Scotia doesn’t offer rewards on cards. Instead, the bank competes by providing a high level of customer service.

When the community bank mails cards to new customers, staff follow up with a call to make sure customers activate the card—not just for security, but also to drive income via interchange fees. The bank also offers SecurLOCK on both its debit and credit cards, in which customers can immediately dispute charges.

“The customer service behind our cards is something that big banks cannot do,” says president and CEO John Buhrmaster. “What makes our cards competitive is our customer service.”

Maximize card benefits

To encourage customers to put their cards on file online, community banks should substitute cardholder information with tokens, says Tina Giorgio, president and CEO of ICBA Bancard in Washington, D.C. “Tokenization is just one of many things community banks can do to make sure their customers’ information and identities stay safe,” she adds.

Community banks should tout the convenience of putting a card on file with customers’ favorite merchants via email marketing campaigns and their websites, says David Shipper, a senior research analyst at Boston-based Aite Group.

Banks can offer bonus points or a cash incentive for utilization, as well as promote purchase protections or warranty benefits for purchases made with the card, he says. Banks can also encourage customers to add their cards to mobile wallets like Apple Pay or Samsung Pay. Once there, customers are more likely to use their card.

Some banks take advantage of data analytics of point-of-sale transactions to determine which merchants attract card customers, says Philip Tollison, head of card processing solutions for Jack Henry & Associates in St. Louis. Community banks can then market to customers to put their card on file for that merchant.

Banks should also offer automatic card-on-file renewal services provided by Visa and Mastercard. “The customer’s recurring subscriptions continue to be paid and the bank continues to receive interchange fees,” Tollison says.
Some banks are also now making their cards physically more appealing, with eye-catching logo images, color schemes and materials.

“Many affluent cardholders are opting for Apple cards that are made of metal; it’s a subtle status symbol,” Tollison says. “There are also eco-friendly cards made from recycled plastic that was retrieved from the bottom of the ocean. This card tugs at the emotions of customers; they really feel good about it.”


What is your bank’s digital payments strategy?

Visit icba.org/payments to read the ICBA Bancard Digital Payments Strategy Guide, an interactive tool that helps community banks prepare a strategy tailored to their customers’ needs.


Katie Kuehner-Hebert is a writer in California.

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