Are credit cards your sweet spot?

October 14, 2014 at 9:24 am Leave a comment

 

For financial industry junkies today is like a total eclipse of the sun. Third quarter earnings reports kickoff for the major banks and J.P. Morgan, Wells Fargo and CitiGroup are all announcing their earnings on the same day. (Incidentally, because of a computer glitch J.P. Morgan’s results slipped out earlier than their 7:00 AM release time and it reported  positive results. What a coincidence.)

One thing for you to keep an eye on is the extent to which credit cards boost the bottom lines of these behemoths. If the conventional wisdom is correct credit cards present both a growth opportunity and a challenge for your credit union. As the WSJ explains in an article yesterday:

“The U.S. credit-card industry has found its sweet spot: a combination of moderate economic growth, low-interest rates and consumers who have struck a balance between spending more and paying their bills on time”

Even for those of us who look at the U.S. economy and see a glass half empty the facts tell you that people are once again taking out the plastic and that there may be some low hanging fruit for credit unions with the right cross-sales pitch.

The bank making the most aggressive push is Wells Fargo. As explained in this recent article in the San Francisco Business Journal , its CEO John Stumpf has groused that the bank has the largest network of branches in the country but ranks seventh among card issuers “ Of our 25 million customer households, how many do you think have a credit card?” They all do, but only 35 percent have their credit card with us.” He is out to change this.

Then there is the fact that, even though the CARD Act outlawed some of the most unseemly consumer credit practices, the low-interest rate environment more than makes up for the lost fee income. In addition, some executives sheepishly admitted to the WSJ that the legislation might actually end up being good for business since it makes it easier for people to manage their existing debt.

How does all this help credit unions? Even though the explosion of vehicle loans is getting the lion’s share of the attention credit unions have also seen solid growth in the credit card business. CUNA Mutual reported in its July Credit Union Trends Report that “ Credit union credit card loan balances are expected to grow 7% in 2014 even though some consumers are still leery of debt after the Great Recession and others are hesitant to take on higher-interest rate debt. Better pricing, easier access to credit and lower fees have boosted credit unions’ market share of the consumer installment credit market.”

Of course continued growth is predicated on the assumption that the American Consumer has climbed out of the bunker and now is confident that the worst is over. Consumer confidence is still shaky and no doubt even shakier after the market gyrations of the last few days. Still, given how low-interest rates are and the fact that the unemployment rate is falling how well you cross sell your members on credit cards will be one of the keys to your growth in the year ahead. After all if you don’t close the deal one of the behemoths probably will.

Entry filed under: Economy, General. Tags: .

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Authored By:

Henry Meier, Esq., General Counsel, New York Credit Union Association.

The views Henry expresses are Henry’s alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Association.

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