SunTrust Introduces “Really Free” Credit Monitoring

Suntrust_home_idtheft_1SunTrust launched a new checking account acquisition strategy built around free credit-report monitoring (see personal homepage right). And this is not a low-budget identity-theft "insurance" policy (see PNC Bank, NetBanker Feb. 3 and Washington Mutual, NetBanker, Nov. 7, 2005), but full-blown Equifax Credit Watch Silver costing $6.95/mo or $50/year at the Equifax website.

Credit Watch Silver includes:

  • Weekly credit-report inquiry and balance-change alerts
  • One initial Equifax credit report.
  • $2500 in identity fraud insurance with $250 deductible

How it works
SunTrust is offering the free monitoring on most of its checking accounts, including its standard $9/mo account that is fee-free with a $1500 minimum balance. The free offer is not available to "free checking" or "senior checking" customers. However, they can buy it for a discounted rate of $3.45/mo or $35/year, a substantial discount from the regular price of $6.95/mo.

Of course, customers will have to wade through relatively gentle up-sell pitches for Equifax Credit Watch Gold, which will cost customers $6.95/mo or $70/yr, about one-third less than the list price of $11.95/mo or $100/yr; or Gold with 3-in-1 Monitoring for another $30/yr. Also, customers that want to extend the Equifax Silver coverage to both members of a joint account will have to pony up an additional $35/yr.

Credit Watch Gold includes:

  • Daily credit-report inquiry and balance-change alerts
  • Unlimited Equifax credit reports
  • $20,000 in identity-fraud coverage with zero deductible

Suntrust_checking_withfreeidprotectChecking account customers must enroll for the free service at a co-branded Equifax website. It's a jury-rigged sign-up process that requires the use of an offer code that includes the customer's 13-digit SunTrust checking account number.

New customers must first open a checking account, then enroll at Equifax at least two days later. SunTrust offers online account opening, but there is no link to an online option from the credit monitoring landing page (click on inset for a closeup).

This is an excellent value for SunTrust checking customers and could potentially have little out-of-pocket cost for the bank. The bank's costs depend on four factors:

  1. 1. How many checking customers take time to enroll for the free service
  2. How many of the enrollees elect to accept credit-monitoring upgrades
  3. How many enrollees opt to buy additional credit-report viewing during the course of the year
  4. How often a fraud situation involving a SunTrust account is thwarted due to the service

The only real problem with the program is that it is not integrated with online banking. The separate enrollment and sign-on make it a hassle to use (of course, this holds down the bank's costs). We expect other banks to offer similar programs during the next 12 to 18 months.


Credit Report Marketers are Faster than Google!

In thousands of searches using Google and other search engines, I’ve succeeded in stumping them a few times, receiving no results on my search expression.

Vantagescore_googleHowever, today I saw something I’d never witnessed before. A Google search for "VantageScore," the new joint credit score from Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax (NetBanker March 14) returned the following (click on the inset for a closeup):

  • Zero mentions of the term
  • Two ads placed against a search term that returned zero documents (click on inset for closeup).

But I guess it had to happen: savvy credit report marketers are moving faster than Google’s spider to lay claim to a new term.


New Credit Score Creates More FUD

Vantagescore_logoFUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) is a strong motivator, especially when it has something to do with your personal financial situation.

As much as financial institutions strive to maintain the perception of safety and soundness, they often benefit from the concerns and resulting risk-averse behavior of their customers.

Case in point: credit reports and identity theft protection. Sure, it’s relatively simple to request a credit report every six months to make sure the credit bureaus have accurate info on file under your name. The problem with this approach: it takes time, you must pass rigorous authentication tests each time, you have to remember to do it proactively, and once you successfully access your report, you have to figure out what it all means.

One of the more confusing aspects of the credit report world is the various credit scores available. Each of the three major credit bureaus offer a proprietary score, but the most common one, used by 75% of mortgage originators, is from Fair Isaac, whose FICO score is almost a household word.

Vantagescore_homepageThe new VantageScore is designed to simplify the confusing credit score landscape. Released today, it’s a joint effort from the three major credit bureaus, Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax, who worked together to create a single score incorporating information in all three databases. The new product will be marketed by a separate entity, VantageScore Solutions LLC, <> a joint venture from the three companies (click on inset for a closer look).

Rather than the 800-point scale in use today, the VantageScore will use a more common academic letter-grade scale as follows:

900-990 A
801-900 B
701-800 C
601-700 D
501-600 F

While it should help bring more clarity to the credit score in the long term, the immediate effect is more confusion with a new name, additional marketing campaigns, and a new grading scale. This should be good for financial institutions that can use the raised awareness and heightened concerns to sell their own credit-monitoring services, which can be a solid source of monthly fee revenue.

We’ll be taking a close look at the market during the next six weeks as we research and author an update to our 2002 analysis of the credit report-monitoring opportunity (refer to Online Banking Report #83/84).