Citibank using Google to Pitch Credit Monitoring


Since the dawn of the online credit bureau era (1997/1998), online credit report marketing has been dominated by the specialists: Experian, Equifax, TransUnion, (now owned by Experian), Fair Isaac, Intersections, and others.

Citi_creditmonitoring_googlead_2Now, financial institutions are becoming more involved. For example, Citibank’s AdWords spot pitching its Credit Monitoring Service showed up fourth overall (and second in the right-hand column) in a search today for "credit report monitoring" on Google (click on inset right for a closer view). With 84 advertisers vying for space on the first page or two of results, that’s expensive real estate.

Citi’s $9.95/mo service (after one free month) is powered by Intersections <> and includes info from all three credit bureaus, daily alerts based on Equifax info, $20,000 in identity theft insurance, and other benefits (see screenshot below for a full listing).

Another surprise advertiser in the category is Wal-Mart whose ad appears in the sixth position along the right side of the search results (see inset above). The retail giant’s $7.46/mo service is co-branded with TransUnion’s TrueCredit (click here for screenshot).

We are big fans of credit report monitoring, having personally used it for more than a decade. And while the service does deliver significant value, we think the single $9.95/mo price point is too high for the mass market. Granted, ten bucks is better than the $14.95/mo charged by TransUnion’s TrueCredit for a similar service (see inset for an email received today). But the $120/yr is simply too much for information that can be extracted relatively easily by consumers themselves.

Better would be a multi-tiered offering: Regular/Gold/Platinum that starts at under $5/mo and peaks at $9.95/mo for an individual, $14.95/mo for a family. That way, more customers would receive the benefits of proactive monitoring while the truly paranoid could use the pricier options for added peace of mind. Truecredit_email

Another puzzling aspect of Citi’s service: it’s impossible to find it through the home page. It not only lacks its own link in the product menus, but also comes up blank in searching on "credit report monitoring" or even "credit reports." You shouldn’t have to use Google to find such an important service, especially at a bank that’s spent tens of millions promoting itself as a safe haven against identity theft.

For more information on credit-report monitoring, see Online Banking Report #83/84. For more on pricing, see OBR #109.


PNC Bank Bundles ID Theft Insurance with Checking

Pnc_idtheftlogoHow do you make your checking account stand out from the one across the street, around the corner, or two clicks away in Internet Explorer? It’s not easy if you want to maintain or increase profitability.

Several banks, including Washington Mutual (NetBanker Nov. 8, 2005) and PNC Bank, use a relatively new technique that is inexpensive and plays to the current hysteria surrounding online security: identity theft insurance. Pnc_idtheftinsurance

In PNC’s case, three of its core checking account options come bundled with $2500 to $5000 in insurance: Premium Plan, Choice Plan, and of course Digital Checking (click on inset right for more details). Free Checking does not include ID theft insurance.

Action Items
Before giving away identity theft insurance, look instead at creating a profit center around fraud protection services. As we discussed in a previous Online Banking Report (OBR 83/84), identity theft protection and related credit bureau-monitoring services are among the few relatively easy fee-income opportunities online.

Pnc_truecredit_cobrandIn fact, PNC Bank sells a full suite of credit bureau services housed under Identity Theft Safeguards in the Personal Finance area. The options range from a $29.95, one-time, three-bureau report to relatively pricey $120/yr and $180/yr subscription plans powered by TransUnion’s TrueCredit, an OBR Best of the Web winner in 2002 (click on inset for closeup).


Washington Mutual’s ID Theft Play

Wamu_idtheft_logoWashington Mutual <>, which has been pitching free checking in Seattle for as long as we’ve lived here (mid 1980s), recently added ID Theft Services to its list of free checking account enhancements.

A mid-October direct mail we received at our home touted the following benefits, along with a $75 American Express Gift Cheque, for signing up for a new checking account (italics are theirs):

  • No direct deposit required
  • Free Telephone Banking
  • Visa Check Card
  • No per-check charge
  • Free Personal Online Banking
  • Free Personal Bill Pay service
  • Free ID Theft Services

In addition, to the above bullet points, the Free ID Theft Services had its own paragraph, one of just four total in the short sales letter:

Exclusively for Washington Mutual customers: Free ID Theft Services. If you become a victim of identity theft, we provide insurance that helps you with your legal and other identity theft expenses up to $5,000 with no deductible. This valuable service also provides professional assistance, plus access to credit reports, management tools and more.

Wamu_idtheft_shortNo other information was provided in the letter or the fine print. But looking at the bank’s website we find that the free services lead to a pitch for full three-bureau credit report monitoring from Intersections <> (click on inset for partial screenshot or download the entire screenshot, links will not work). It’s all explained on Washington Mutual’s proprietary identity theft site, ID Theft Inspect <>.

With all the concerns about online safety and fraud protection, it makes perfect sense to offer identity theft protection services to customers, especially when you will be helping defrauded customers whether you make it an account benefit or not.

We like how WAMU offers certain services to all account holders, then upsells them into full credit report monitoring. However, the bank’s pitch for fee-based protection could be far more effective if it:

  • Offered online signup — Currently customers must signup in branch or call a toll-free number.
  • Disclosed the price — There is no mention of a monthly fee, either in the main body of the copy, or in the detailed disclosures. This is a sure way to lose customers.
  • Provided a more detailed view — The promotional copy does a good job of explaining the benefits; however, beyond a few blurry screenshots, there is no way to preview the level of detail to be provided with the service. The bank needs an online demo, tutorial, or FLASH presentation.

Overall, we give it a B+; disclose the price and it’s an A-.


ID Theft Prevention Services in the News

Identityguard_logoBased on the calls we’ve been getting, you’ll see a raft of stories like the one in the Wall Street Journal today, New Services Guard Against ID Theft, by reporters Kevin Delaney and David Bank. The article described new services from four companies that go beyond simple credit report monitoring, and track personal info in a raft of online databases. The goal of the services is to identify potential fraud earlier in the cycle, minimizing its impact.

The article was inconclusive over the value the individual services provided, but it generally was positive about the concept. This type of press coverage helps raise awareness among your security-minded consumers about potential solutions. Banks that can vet these services and provide reasonable assurances that by using them the consumer hasn’t created yet another security vulnerability, will be rewarded with a nice stream of fee income.

Companies mentioned in the WSJ article:

  • ID Watch from Intelius
  • FraudProtect from Intersections
  • MyPubicInfo
  • DeleteNow from UniPrivacy

We’ll cover this area in more detail in an upcoming Online Banking Report. For an overview of the market see OBR 83/84.


Key Bank’s New ID Theft Service has Flawed Implementation

Privacymatters_logoOn Sept. 19, Key Bank <> announced a new fee-based identity theft and credit bureau monitoring program powered by Vertrue’s Privacy Matters service. It’s the first major U.S. bank to market a comprehensive service through its website. Most major card issuers have been selling similar services via statement insert and direct mail for years.

Price: $14.95/mo ($180/yr) for a couple or $9.95/month ($120/yr) for a single

Key’s presents the benefits in four groups:

1. Prevention

  • Firewall, anti-virus and anti-spyware software
  • Free personal document shredder

2. Detection

  • 24-hour credit monitoring
  • Weekly email fraud alerts credit bureau changes occur
  • Three-bureau credit report

3. Protection

  • Emergency funds transferred to your credit card if the account is frozen or your card is stolen, with approved credit
  • $25,000 of insurance against losses

4. Restoration

  • Professional investigator to help restore your identity and credit record
  • Credit card registration

I believe the area of credit bureau monitoring and fraud prevention are ripe for long-term profits and growth (see Online Banking Report 83/84). However, Key Bank’s offering is too expensive and not well explained, especially with respect to who provides the listed benefits.

First, the price. This is a service you want your customers to use, both for their protection and yours. You can and should sell it for a profit, but don’t get carried away. In our view, it should be priced less than $10/mo for a couple and no more than $7 or $8/month for a single.

Keybank_idtheft_pageSecond, you need to be completely upfront and transparent about who is offering and administering the service, especially one that deals with sensitive issues such as identity theft and credit records. And there needs to detailed explanations available for all features and benefits.

Key Bank and its partner’s implementation leave a lot to be desired on both these fronts. The benefits are not well explained on Key’s website (click on inset for a closeup). This is a new offering for many and there will be many questions, especially at $180/yr. For example, prospective customers are going to want to know:

  • How often will I receive a 3-bureau credit report?
  • How do you add cash to a frozen credit card and why is it "subject to credit approval"?
  • What types of expenses are reimbursed with the $25,000 insurance policy?

Keybank_privacymatters_signupEven more damaging to the bank’s credibility is the lack of disclosure that the service is being administered and delivered by an outside company. Even though savvy users may suspect they are signing on with a third party the name of the entity Privacy Matters, is so generic, it’s difficult to know for sure if that’s another company or a service mark of Key Bank. The signup form does NOT explicitly say one way or the other (click on signup form, left).

Even more problematic is that Privacy Matters is not really a company at all. Even though it’s the only name used on the signup form (see inset), Terms and Conditions, and Contact Us pages, it’s a service mark of Adaptive Marketing LLC, which according to the privacy policy pop-up, is wholly-owned subsidiary of Coverdell & Company. What’s not said anywhere is that Coverdell & Company itself is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Vertrue <> which until recently was known as MemberWorks.

Put yourself in the customer’s shoes. Wouldn’t you wonder why the benefits aren’t clearly defined? Why the ownership of the service is so vague? Why I would trust a service mark of an entity owned by another entity owned by a company that just changed its name, none of which I’ve ever heard of. And really, why is Key Bank making this offer to me in the first place?

Product features and benefits: A
Pricing: C-
Website implementation: D


Gold Credit Report Package from Equifax

If you are looking for ideas on how to create a steady stream of fee income from your online presence, look at how the credit report marketers have continued to command premium prices even as the government mandates annual free credit report access.

We like Equifax ‘s approach. A laundry-list of features and benefits divided into a GOLD and SILVER offering. Gold, at $100 per year provides little more than Silver at $50 per year, but with a 30-day free trial, why not give it a try. Cleverly, the cheaper Silver plan does NOT have a free trial period. Many consumers will check out the Gold and never remember or bother to switch back to Silver.

By the way, we first heard about this offering through a banner ad on eBay in June.