Sunday, May 2, 2010

Is Cash Really King?

The competition is again heating up in the checking account cash wars. In addition to banks that have traditionally offered cash incentives to open checking accounts such as JPMorgan Chase, Capital One, Fifth Third and PNC Bank, banks that in the past have offered premiums for the opening of new accounts like KeyBank are now also joining the money for checking acquisition game.

While incentives with some institutions are still $50-$75, many of the more aggressive institutions are offering rewards of $150-$200 to new customers that open accounts and meet some qualifying stipulations such as signing up for direct deposit, online billpay or a minimum number of signature debits. A recent program by Capital One offering $300 for a new account was the highest premium seen in years.

In a review of recent checking campaigns using the search service Mintel Comperemedia, more and more firms are offering the higher incentives. The question remains whether these high incentives pay off.

According to a 2009 study by Novantas, as many as 50% of new checking accounts are usually inactive when analyzed by looking at debit and credit transactions on the new account. In addition, the BAI has fielded many studies that find that as many as 30-40% of new accounts are closed during the first year. Unfortunately, many banks that I visit do not measure the new account activity level or rate of attrition as thoroughly as they measure the number of accounts that come in the front door. If measured using a full year view of the acquisition costs of new accounts, it is possible that some banks are paying double or triple their cash incentive for new relationships which may make the programs unprofitable from both a short and long term perspective.

It may be a more prudent strategy to reallocate this investment to strengthen current customer relationships through cross-sell and up-sell programs instead of attracting short-term, opportunistic customers with such high incentives.

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