US Bank Adds Debit Card Section to Online Banking

imageUS Bank, which has been busy building new online features of late, recently (note 1) added a debit card section to its online banking site. The new Check Cards & ATM Cards section is displayed on the default Your Accounts main page (see first screenshot). 

Clicking on the debit card name takes users to an info page which outlines debit card withdrawal and purchase limits along with the accounts accessible through the card. I’ve banked there for 20 years and today is the first time I’ve ever known my daily limits.

The bank included embedded “help” bubbles around some of the key terms. But there are no direct links that explain the options or how to alter them (e.g., request an increase to my daily limit). 

Bottom line: Treating debit cards like their own “product” makes good strategic sense. Users benefit from the added transparency, and it helps position the card as a value-add, something that could even support fees for premium options (e.g., a higher withdrawal limit, rewards, multi-account access, etc.). 

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US Bank’s main online banking view now includes a debit card section (2 Aug 2012)

US Bank online banking features a debit card section

Users can click through to see the specific limits associated with the debit card
Note: On the right, the bank upsells Visa Money Transfer, a $1.95 per transaction P2P payment option

US Bank debit card info box

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Note:
1. I’m not sure when it was added, but today was the first time I noticed it.

The Debit Card On/Off Switch from City Bank of Texas

imageCity Bank of Texas has been a mobile innovator for more than four years, launching a ClairMail-powered mobile site in Oct 2008. I first heard its story at the Mobile Summit in June 2009. At that time, the bank already had 10% of its online banking base using mobile.

City Bank now offers a full range of apps including Android, iPhone and iPad, which make for a pretty impressive graphic. The new apps are powered by Malauzai Software.

And, in a world where most apps look pretty much the same, it has managed to pioneer several unique features:

  • Debit card on/off switch: If customers ever want to switch off their debit card, because it was misplaced, or if funds are running low, they simply move the toggle on the My Cards page of the mobile app (see inset).  
  • Reward-checking status: City Bank is a long-time rewards-checking client of BancVue. Its mobile app includes a rewards-tracking feature so users can see where they stand in the three-level program (see the Android screen in the lower right below).

imageBoth features are must-haves. But the on/off switch is brilliant both for its simplicity and value. And this tangible mobile feature/benefit likely to get talked about in the press and at the weekend barbeque. We are giving it an OBR Best of the Web award, the first of the year and 84th of all time (see note). 

 
The City Bank of Texas mobile lineup (link, 23 Jan 2011)

 City Bank of Texas mobile banking lineup

Note:
1. Since 1997, our Online Banking Report has periodically given OBR Best of the Web awards to companies that pioneer new online or mobile banking features. It is not an endorsement of the company or product, just recognition for what we believe is an important industry development. If anyone knows of other financial institutions offering a similar feature, let us know and we’ll update the post. City Bank of Texas is the 84th company to win the award since 1997 and the first in 2012. Recent winners are profiled in the Netbanker archives.

RIP Debit Fees: The Winners and Losers

image The debit card fee debacle was an interesting drama to watch. I’m sure there are lots of lessons here for a future biz school case study. But really, was $5/mo for a service that many consumers use daily, such a big deal that even Obama had to call BofA out? We spend two or three times that each month on extra pizza toppings alone, but I don’t see anyone bad mouthing the pepperoni industry.

While it’s clear in retrospect that BofA should have played this differently, rolling out the price increase gradually for instance, or upgrading its debit card product at the same time (note 1), the bank was at least being up-front with its pricing and reasons.

And the whole episode is not just a loss for BofA, but for the whole industry, as one its most popular products is turned into a regulated utility with Durbin controlling prices on the merchant side and public opinion squashing fees on the consumer side.    

Here’s the winners and losers from BofA’s capitulation on debit card fees:

Losers

  • Big banks/shareholders: Obviously, the big banks who were all (except Citi) testing various fee options, miss out on added revenues in 2011 and for however long it takes before they implement other less-transparent price increases. And of course, BofA loses the most as it took the brunt of PR damage and now every pricing move it makes will be put under a microscope. 
  • Small banks and credit unions: The $5 fee was a windfall for small FIs in their marketing war against the big banks. Now what’s the rallying cry for Bank Transfer Day? (And many small FIs would eventually have hopped on the fee bandwagon once the consumer backlash faded.)
  • Government/taxpayers: The big banks employ millions directly, and millions of other jobs are indirectly supported by banking revenues. If this leads to an industry-wide layoff (note 2), it could add hundreds of thousands to the unemployment roles just in time for the 2012 elections. And the whole anti-bank rhetoric from Congress and the Administration, along with the implied threat of more price controls, makes it harder for banks to raise capital, weakening an already fragile ecosystem. Does anyone really want to risk a repeat of 2008?

Winners

  • Merchants: Widespread debit card fees would likely have caused a reduction in their use and a corresponding increase in the use of cash, checks and credit cards which would have driven merchant costs up.

Mixed

  • Consumers: Short-term it’s a win. The grass-roots victory feels good and avoiding the $3 to $5 monthly fee is nice (it just about covers that Netflix price increase…so you can keep getting the DVDs in the mail). But longer-term, it’s probably a wash. Banks need to improve revenues, or they will either have to cut services, lay off employees, and/or find sneakier ways to raise prices ($40 overdrafts anyone?).

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Notes:
1. We recently looked at optional fee-based services banks could build using remote banking value-adds. See our May 2011 Online Banking Report (subscription). 
2. I’m not predicting layoffs. Honestly, I have no idea. There are way too many factors at play to make a direct connection. But certainly, the one-two punch of interchange price controls combined with the fee backlash, make cost cutting seem the more palatable course of action to improve profits. And to the extent that smaller players pick up incremental business, they could hire a good chunk of those laid off.

PerkStreet Financial Targets USAA Debit-Rewards Customers with Ads on Facebook

image Every once in a while I stumble onto Facebook, usually by following a link from a credit union or banking site. It happened a few days ago, when I clicked a link in the middle of Visions FCU Rocks, a cool youth banking microsite from Visions Federal Credit Union.

The Visions Facebook page was fine, but it was the little ad in the lower-right that grabbed my attention (see inset and screenshot below).

imagePerkStreet Financial, which has perhaps the richest debit-rewards program in the nation, with 1% to 2% cash back, is targeting USAA customers who just lost their debit card rewards program altogether. The landing page (see screenshot below) does a good job laying out the financial benefits and funneling visitors to the online app.

Bottom line: It’s a good time to tout debit card rewards, if you are sure you are keeping it. And targeting USAA customers specifically seems worth testing.

But if I was a USAA customer doing whatever people do on Facebook, I think I would find the, “Your USAA Account Changes” headline vaguely misleading. It might be better to use a headline more like the first sentence of the ad, “USAA is ending debit card rewards” or even, “Be glad USAA ended debit rewards.”  

That’s it for my attempt at teaching “headline writing 101.” Class dismissed. Have a great weekend.  

PerkStreet Financial targets USAA customers with Facebook ad (12 July 2011)

Perkstreet Financial targets USAA customers with Facebook ad (12 July 2011)

PerkStreet landing page (link)

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BillMyParents.com Traffic Spikes to 600,000 Unique Visitors

image If you want to attract customers between the ages of 12 to 21+, you could not have a better name than BillMyParents. But living up to that promise, not to mention appealing to parents, is a little trickier.

San Diego-based BillMyParents is a public company (OTCBB: BMPI) currently valued at $40 million. When we first looked at the company (March 2009), it was building an alternative payment mark similar to PayPal or BillMeLater. But the company appears to have pivoted into a more achievable prepaid card product.

Today, its core offering is a $3.95/mo prepaid MasterCard debit card (see full fee schedule below) that offers mobile alerts and basic parental controls (lock, unlock, reload). 

Fresh off a $7 million infusion of new funding (Nov. 2010, note 1), the company has ramped up its advertising with its first national TV commercial (on ESPN; link) and a mention in MTV’s Rob Dyrdek’s Fantasy Factory (which apparently has something to do with skateboarding). It is also working with Street League Skateboarding.

Evidently, those efforts are bearing fruit as website traffic is up 20-fold since December, to 600,000 unique visitors in May according to Compete estimates (see below). More importantly, traffic to the secure site (e.g., account holders) is up to 17,000 visitors in May compared to 7,000 in December (note 2).

Relevance for Netbankers: Teens want to spend. Parents want transparency and control. And banks want to attract teens and tweens that could be customers for the next 80 years. And if that’s not enough, in the United States, prepaid looks to be favored in the post-Durbin world (previous post).

So expect prepaid cards to be a hotbed of activity from both banks and non-banks (note 3). 

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BillMyParents.com unique monthly visitors

image

Source: Compete, 28 June 2011


Parent section of BillMyParent’s website
(28 June 2011)

Parent section of BillMyParent's website (27 June 2011)

Fee schedule

image

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Notes:
1. Source:http://www.marketwire.com/press-release/socialwise-changes-corporate-name-to-billmyparents-inc-otcqb-sclw-1525359.htm
2. Source: http://siteanalytics.compete.com/account.billmyparents.com/
3. For example, BankSimple http://www.netbanker.com/bank_simple/

Is Prepaid the Durbin Antidote?

image Prepaid cards have been a bit of an afterthought for most banks and card issuers. Sure, they make the occasional appearance on banking sites in December as holiday gifts. But mainstream they are not.

But that was before traditional debit cards suddenly became unprofitable (note 1) thanks to the upcoming U.S. debit interchange price controls (see Durbin rant, note 2) combined with with last year’s reining in of overdraft fees.

It’s pretty easy to predict what happens next. Banks will do what any business would do when offering a popular, yet unprofitable product. Raise prices with new monthly/annual/transaction fees. And for customers that are fee adverse, banks will offer two alternatives:

  • Credit cards for the credit worthy
  • Prepaid cards for everyone else

Bottom line: Prepaid bankcards are about to become much more popular. Here’s why:

  • More interchange revenue to the issuer
  • Easier to sell online with fewer risk management and compliance issues
  • Great entry product for teens and pre-teens
  • Porting the prepaid “card” into mobile phones and other contactless form factors
  • Valuable service for underbanked segments
  • More utility: can be gifted, used for traveling, used to deliver allowance, and so on

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Notes

1. The price controls apply only to banks of $10 billion or more.
2. I am really disappointed in the Durbin interchange price controls. I was sure Congress would delay the matter, but unfortunately I was wrong. My feeling is that price controls are an absolute last resort when there is not enough competition to create a free market price. I don’t think that was the case with debit interchange.

Long-term, the whole exercise is a zero-sum game for the businesses, merchants and banks, who will adjust their prices to cover costs and ensure a normal profit. The only likely loser is the consumer who will be deprived of innovations killed off by the dramatic shift in interchange.

Here’s my scorecard of the post-Durbin winners and losers: 

Short-term winners:

  • Merchants, obviously
  • Prepaid card issuers (which are not covered by Durbin price controls)
  • Consultants, lawyers, marketers and professional services firms involved in drafting and communicating new bank prices and policies 
  • Financial institutions exempted from Durbin (under $10 billion) could pick up share and/or be able to gain fee revenue by matching the large bank price increases

Short-term losers:

  • Large banks will see revenue declines until they can get new fees introduced and move transactions to credit/prepaid
  • Consumers who will see fee increases from banks faster than they’ll see price decreases from merchants
  • Payment startups and business consortiums whose business model was predicated on disrupting debit

Long-term unchanged:

  • Merchants who will eventually pass on the interchange savings due to price competition
  • Banks who will make up the revenue loss with new fees and/or by channeling transactions to higher-margin products
  • Consumers who will pay more in bank fees but less for goods and services, an overall wash

Truliant FCU Raises Fear of Being Declined in New Website Pitch for Opt-in Debit Card Overdraft Protection

image Three weeks ago I noticed that North Carolina-based Truliant Federal Credit Union had posted a highly visible opt-in overdraft pitch on its login page (see screenshot #5, below). I checked back today and found that the CU is still running a login page ad, albeit smaller (ss #2), and has also taken the message to its homepage (ss #1).

The new ads are more fear-based compared to the previous friend-of-the-customer approach (see note 1). In addition, the 180,000-member CU has moved to an online opt-in form (ss #4). Previously, customers could only ask for someone to contact them (ss #6).

Truliant has considerably simplified the landing-page message. In May, it offered a credit line option in addition to the simple $29-per-item system (ss #6). Apparently, that wasn’t working as well as hoped. Now, members clicking on either the homepage or login-page promo receive a short, semi-urgent message (ss #3) that links to the online opt-in form.

Analysis: While I think the CU does an adequate job explaining the new opt-in options (see note 2 for suggested improvements), I’m disappointed it moved away from giving the credit line option equal billing. With an APR of 6.5% to 11.5% and no transaction/advance fees, it’s a much more cost-effective option (note 3).   

1. Truliant FCU homepage visitors receive a large homepage pitch to opt-in for overdraft protection (10 June 2010)
Note: It must be a brand new banner since the underlying hyperlink, after the ads have cycled once, has a typo causing it to lead to an error page (9:25 AM PDT)

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2. Overdraft protection message on login page (link, 10 June 2010)

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3. Landing page (link, 10 June 2010)       4. Opt-in form (link,10 June 2010)
Click to enlarge                                           Click to enlarge

image    image

5. Previous login page had two ads for OD protection (20 May 2010)

image

6. Previous landing page included a line-of-credit option (link, 20 May 2010)
Note: In May there was no online opt-in form; interested members could only select a “contact me” button. The landing page now links to the form shown in #4 above.

image

Notes:
I hate singling out Truliant for this post. It has one of the best blogs in all of banking that does a great job educating and connecting with members. And because the CU has done a decent job with the overdraft opt-in process, I’d give it a B or B- grade. But my job is to look for potential improvements, so here goes.

1. Is making members afraid of using their Truliant debit card really a good way to endear them to the brand? Sure, the ads are likely to produce clickthroughs and they definitely don’t cross over into the misleading category, but is there a little “crying wolf” here? Something to think about.

2. Other suggestions for improvement:

  • The three choices on the online form are not as clear as they could be. The most popular choice, number 2, has both a YES and NO in it. That’s the kind of wording that gives your members a headache. It would be far simpler if you just asked customers to tell you which types of transactions they want covered:
       A. Paper checks and automatic drafts (yes/no)
       B. Debit card transactions that don’t require a PIN (yes/no)
  • The landing page confuses the matter by using three different terms (debit without PIN, debit, and signature debit) without providing a detailed definition. At minimum, a link to a clear definition of the term should be included.
  • The landing pag
    e says you have to “opt in again by August 15.” That sounds like I need to do something now and something again later this summer.
  • The “nightmare” scenario presented on the landing page, being denied at the grocery store POS when you have a hungry family to feed, is a good example of the downside of not electing to have debit-card OD protection. And even though the $29 charge is mentioned in the previous paragraph, members skimming the landing page may still not understand it will cost them $29 to avoid this embarrassment/hassle. I’d go overboard here and place an asterisk by this line and disclose the $29 fee again in fine print at the bottom.  

3. If the problem is that it’s too hard to qualify for the credit line, the CU should consider a higher-APR and/or more-fee version for riskier members.

Industry Participants See Capital One’s "Portable Debit" as Potential Disruptive Technology

American Banker poll The current reader poll on American Banker's homepage (here) is seeking opinions on Capital One's new "decoupled" debit card. It's a new MasterCard debit card that can be attached to any checking account by processing transactions through the open ACH system. Cards can be used in PIN or signature mode. Capital One began issuing the new product to credit card customers in March and has signed a co-brand deal with an unknown grocery chain. 

Interestingly, of the 70% of respondents with an opinion (excluding the "too early to judge" category), more than half chose "Holds potential to disrupt status quo" (see chart above). The poll was first posted Friday morning (June 8) and runs for a week. Check here Friday for the final results. 

While it's certainly not a scientific sampling, and it's in the free zone so anyone can respond, the results tell me that the product has the attention of the banking community. Whether it catches on with consumers is another matter.  

For more information on Capital One's new product:

  • Aite Group 13-page report
  • Javelin's blog entries part 1, 2, and 3
  • Colin Henderson's Bankwatch post
  • American Banker's June 5 article 

ING Direct Offers 1% Cashback for 60 Days

Email from ING Direct announcing cashback bonus I just received an email (inset) from ING Direct announcing a 1% cashback promo for its Electric Orange debit card. Not surprisingly, the rebate applies only to signature debit, where interchange fees cover the cost.

Initially I thought it was a permanent feature of the bank's new paperless checking account. But after clicking through to the landing page (see screenshot below), I discovered it's just a two-month promotion, running June 1 through July 31.

Given ING Direct's staunch consumer advocacy positioning, I am a little surprised it is not a bit more upfront about the two-month time period. Perhaps it's just an oversight, or maybe they are testing different copy treatments.

The 1% offer is also shown on the bank's main Electric Orange product page (here). Again, there is no mention that it's a promotion until you click through the "1% cashback" banner.

Analysis
Overall, it's a good promotion. A clear benefit for the customer and limited duration for the bank. And it helps build awareness that ING Direct supports debit card use at the point of sale, a relatively new feature for the direct bank. See previous coverage here.

Landing page (here)

Debitman Card Co. Poised for Growth

Debitman Card Co. made three important announcements this week:

  • Raised $8.7 million in a Series B financing from Cardinal Venture Capital, Selby Venture Partners, and HSBC Retail Services
  • Received a U.S. patent on the company’s idea of an interoperable, merchant-based debit system
  • Designated HSBC to market Debitman to its customers

 

Debitman_logoDebitman has been struggling for years to make good on the promise of its merchant-based, debit-card network. However, despite having built a significant merchant base that includes some of the nation’s largest retail chains, the market’s reaction so far has been less than enthusiastic. To many, it seems to demonstrate that merchants really aren’t so much looking to save on card fees in general, but rather to save on MasterCard and Visa fees specifically.

 

Armed with support from HSBC, the new financing, and patented debit system, Debitman may finally have achieved a breakthrough. HSBC, one of the world’s largest issuers, has consistently proven its willingness to innovate in payments. While it may just be hedging its credit card bets, gaining access to HSBC’s customer base is an enormous win for Debitman, and it could form a base for real market penetration.

 

It’s unlikely HSBC North America and its innovating chairman, Bobby Metha, were just acting on a casual whim when hooking up with Debitman. The bank must sense an opportunity. Metha, after all, came to HSBC after a long career at Boston Consulting, and he knows how to think for himself.

 

It’s likely that Metha put his finger into the wind and felt it moving against credit cards. And not so much because of lawsuits fermenting in Judge Gleeson’s courtroom in Brooklyn, but because consumer behavior is changing. In the U.K., debit-card spending outstripped cash spending last year. Similarly, in the United States, credit card balances are falling as consumers pay down or convert credit card debt to equity-secured balances.