Busting Community Bank Credit Card Myths

Credit card programs continue to be among the most significant opportunities for the nation’s largest banks; is the same true for community banks?

After a slowdown in 2020, credit card applications grew back to pre-pandemic levels in 2021. It is projected that credit cards will experience strong growth in 2022, particularly in small business and commercial segments. While a few community banks recognize the business opportunity in credit cards, according to Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. reports, over 83% do not own any credit card assets on their books.

The potential rewards of issuing credit cards are huge. Customers who have more financial products with their bank show improved retention, with more activity across the products, leading to higher profitability. It can help community banks serve their local community and improve their customers’ financial health. And community banks can realize a high return on assets (ROA) from their credit card program.

Despite these benefits, community bank executives hold back their institutions from issuing credit cards due to several myths and misconceptions about the space. Credit card issuing is no easy task — but with available technology and servicing innovations makes it possible to bust these myths.

Myth 1: The Upfront Investment is Too High
While it would be a significant investment for a financial institution to put together a credit card program from scratch, there is no need to do that. A bank can leverage capabilities built and offered by companies who offer credit cards as a service. In fact, community banks need to make little to no upfront investment to add innovative solutions to their offerings.

Myth 2: Customers are Well Served by Agent Banks
In the past, many community banks opted to work with an agent bank to offer credit cards because it was the only option available. But participating in an agent bank referral program meant they essentially lost their customer relationship to the issuing bank. Additionally, the community banks cannot make their own credit decisions or access the credit card data for their own customers in this model. Alternative options means that banks should consider whether to start or continue their agent bank credit card offering, and how it could affect their franchise in the long run.

Myth 3: Credit Card Programs are Too Risky
A handful of community banks have chosen to issue subprime credit cards with high fees and interest rates — and indeed have higher risk. However, sub-prime lending is not the focus of vast majority of community banks. Relationship lending is key; credit cards are a great product to deepen the relationships with customers. Relationship-based credit card portfolios tend to have lower credit losses compared to national credit card programs, particularly in economic downturns. This can provide comfort to conservative bankers that still want to serve their customers.

Myth 4: Credit Card Programs are Unprofitable
This could not be further from the truth. The average ROA ratio overall for banks increased from 0.72% in 2020 to 1.23% in 2021, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.; credit cards could be five times more profitable. In fact, business credit cards and commercial cards tend to achieve an ROA of 8% or higher. Commercial cards, in particular, are in high demand and expected to grow faster due to digital payment trends that the pandemic accelerated among businesses. Virtual cards provide significant benefits to businesses; in turn, they increase spend volume and lead to higher interchange and lower risk to the bank.

Myth 5: Managing Credit Cards is Complex, Time-Consuming and Expensive
Banks can bust this myth by partnering with a organizations that specialize in modern technology and program management of credit cards. There is technology available across all card management disciplines, including origination, credit decision making, processing, sales/servicing interfaces, detailed reporting, integrated rewards, marketing and risk management. Partners can provide expertise on policies and procedures that banks will require for the program. Community banks can launch and own credit card programs in 120 days or less with innovative turnkey solutions — no new hires required.

Considering the past challenges and perceptions about credit cards, it is no surprise that these misconceptions persist. But the future of credit cards for community banks is bright. Community banks armed with knowledge and foresight will be positioned for success in credit cards. Help from the right expertise will allow them to enhance their customer experiences while enjoying high profitability in the long run.