The Zacks Analyst Blog Highlights: Visa, Mastercard, Global Payments and American Express
Companies in the payments ecosystem serving small businesses are poised to gain from their increasing inclination toward business digitization.
(Bloomberg) -- Hundreds of dollars in statement credits. Extra points for ordering takeout. Cash back on virtual personal-training sessions.In the pandemic age, banks are getting creative in a bid to keep affluent customers. For years, these consumers flocked to premium credit cards, paying fees of around $500 a year in exchange for special access to airport lounges, extra rewards for travel and restaurant spending, and other perks. After months of being grounded, and the pandemic likely to drag on for much of 2021, many consumers are growing antsy.“Now we have a lot of home expenses because we’re all home -- all the delivery services and the grocery shopping online,” said Bonnie Crawford, a software executive in Portland, Oregon, who’s had her Platinum card from American Express Co. for more than a decade. “You’re not getting extra points for shopping on Instacart or doing delivery services. So that really started me down the path of maybe this is the year I actually switch.”Crawford -- who’s logged a million miles of air travel, and who normally flies at least 150,000 miles a year -- said she phoned AmEx with her concerns and was offered a $500 statement credit to keep her $550-a-year card. Instead, she asked for 50,000 points, which she said she could redeem for rewards worth about $1,000.Banks are in a bind. Many have spent years building out their high-end card offerings with pricey sign-up bonuses and other perks. Take JPMorgan Chase & Co., for instance. When the company debuted its Sapphire Reserve card in late 2016, with 100,000 in points offered as a sign-up bonus, analysts estimated it wouldn’t break even on the investment for 5 1/2 years.‘Best Customers’“In general, you don’t become profitable to a credit-card company until several years after you get it,” Brian Kelly, founder and chief executive officer of the Points Guy website, which is dedicated to loyalty programs and credit cards. “The credit-card companies, in general, don’t want to lose their best customers. They pay a lot of money to acquire customers, whether that’s advertising, expensive mailers, all the sign-up bonuses.”In online forums, customers are swapping stories of the success -- or lack thereof -- they’ve had in getting retention offers when they’ve called to cancel or downgrade pricey cards. Some Sapphire Reserve customers, for instance, say they’ve received statement credits of as much as $250.But in general, hefty retention offers are only made to select customers, and banks don’t disclose their rationale for giving them out.Even so, JPMorgan said for now it’s now allowing Sapphire Reserve customers who normally have to use a $300 statement credit for travel to spend it at gas stations and supermarkets instead and is offering extra points for grocery-store purchases. The bank has also put a planned $100 annual-fee increase -- which would have have boosted the cost to $550 a year -- on hold for existing customers.Citigroup Inc. said it’s also temporarily allowing those who have the bank’s $495-a-year Prestige card to use their $250 annual travel credit at supermarkets and restaurants. The world’s largest credit-card issuer also gave a $225 credit to customers who had Citigroup’s American Airlines Group Inc. $450-a-year Executive card as of March.Souring LoansThe extra investment comes at a tough time for card lenders, who had to set aside extra provisions to cover souring loans last year as the pandemic drove up unemployment. That’s pinched the overall profitability of their card portfolios.Still, the companies’ efforts to keep customers seem to be working so far. Attrition levels haven’t begun to tick up for premium cards at JPMorgan, Citigroup and AmEx. And consumers paid about $13 billion in annual credit-card fees last year, the same amount as in 2019, according to consultancy R.K. Hammer.For AmEx, Covid-19 has forced the card giant to temporarily shift its longtime focus on travel and dining. Last year, for instance, the firm offered Platinum customers as much as $320 in statement credits for spending on select streaming and wireless-telephone services.This month, the lender unveiled new temporary perks tied to rewarding customers’ increased reliance on online shopping, including as much as $650 for virtual personal-training sessions from the luxury-gym chain Equinox, and $150 back for the food-delivery service Home Chef.‘Essential Categories’“For many years our focus has been on driving long term card member loyalty by regularly evolving our card offers and benefits,” Rachel Stocks, executive vice president of global premium products and benefits at AmEx, said in an emailed statement. “The offers we’ve introduced over the past year in at-home essential categories like streaming, wireless, grocery, e-commerce, business essentials and more are a continuation of this strategy.”Crawford, the AmEx customer who took extra points to keep her Platinum card, said she appreciates some of the newer offers, such as the credits for streaming services, saying they “took the sting” out of the fact she couldn’t use many other perks.“I do want to give AmEx credit,” she said. “They pivoted really well.”For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2021 Bloomberg L.P.