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Smiling young woman in orange sweater holding up and pointing to a credit card
Celia Shatzman Photo
Writer & Editor

10 minutes

It’s more important than ever for credit unions to carefully set credit card goals for 2022.

Tis the season to be thinking about new year’s resolutions. There’s a good chance credit unions’ version of a “new year, new you” philosophy will include setting card goals for 2022. But like any goal, you can’t move forward without considering the recent past.

“We are still facing unprecedented times, which continues to impact many aspects of our payments landscape,” says Roger Pittman, senior strategic account manager, credit union division for CUES Supplier member FIS, Jacksonville, Florida. “The pandemic, supply chain shortfalls, people resources and economic woes, to name a few, are creating a ripple effect of challenges. Being enabled with a nimble payments solution that provides flexibility and options for members is key.”

There are so many ways in which credit unions can make payments improvements over the course of the new year. “As goal planning takes place for 2022, credit unions should be focused not only on growing balances and purchase volume, but on managing the expected return of card delinquency to pre-pandemic levels,” says Norm Patrick, VP/Advisors Plus Consulting at CUESolutions provider PSCU, St. Petersburg, Florida. “In addition, credit unions should continue to evaluate introducing new digital features that will continue to enhance cardholder experience.”  

To make the most of this fresh start, here are the card goals that credit unions should be considering for 2022 and beyond. 

Digital vs. Plastic

The payments space has changed at a rapid rate, so credit unions need to keep pace with that evolution. Robert Zondag, senior manager at Wipfli LLP, Milwaukee, a national accounting and consulting firm that works with hundreds of credit unions across the country, believes success comes down to understanding your member profile.

“Obviously, credit unions traditionally have been focused on consumers and need to understand what it is the members want,” he says. “You need to have a wide range of products, but you need to understand why you’re offering them. If you are predominantly consumer-driven, that’s going to look very different than if you’re a credit union that also serves, for instance, small businesses, and the digital space from traditional plastic.”

To set your sights on the right payments moves, consider why your members are giving you their card business in the first place. “Given the target audience, determine why you’re going to be their card of choice,” says Wipfli Director Lisa Nicholas. From there, you can expand on the advantages you already offer. 

The pandemic forced reluctant members to try new technology that they may not have been comfortable with before, notes Pitt-man. “These newly used forms of technology have been well-received and are now evolving into additional technology needs, such as digital issuance,” he says. “Digital issuance supports the immediate gratification we all … learned to expect. The instantaneous service of having a digitalized card in your mobile wallet … will require credit unions to engage with their core and mobile/internet banking providers to ensure a fully integrated approach.” 

However, don’t forget that though digital is in great demand, plastic will still be around for the foreseeable future. 

Robert Zondag
Senior Manager
Wipfli LLP
In this constantly evolving world, you have to always be thinking ... ‘What are the enhancements or technology tools that we have to make our card relevant to our members?’

Serving Members’ Needs

What has always set credit unions apart is their dedication to their members, their awareness of members’ needs and financial goals and the meaningful relationships they have with them. “This deep understanding can serve as the basis for setting card strategies that best deliver solutions catered specifically for a credit unions’ member base,” says Celeste Schwitters, head of community accounts for North America at CUES Supplier member Visa, San Francisco. “At Visa, we recommend three steps to the goal-setting process.” 

The first step is setting goals by product type. “Members use different products, whether credit, debit or a small-business card product for various purposes,” Schwitters says. “Therefore, each product requires a distinct strategy.” She recommends starting the goal setting by asking a few questions. For example, what does it mean for credit unions in 2022 that credit volume is beginning to ramp up in the travel and entertainment sectors? Will the trends of elevated debit usage that has occurred throughout the pandemic and robust debit growth continue in 2022? How can your credit union continue to foster this growth trajectory? Finally, small businesses are investing in digital technologies to remain competitive—how have you accounted for this in your goal setting? 

The second step is factoring in current payment trends across card types. Thanks to the pandemic, there has been a massive shift in consumer behavior related to digital payments, with more people making online purchases. For example, buying online and picking up curbside became a preferred shopping method, and contactless payment usage has grown.

“With many of these behaviors expected to last, you must take this new reality into account as you set strategies for 2022,” Schwitters says. “For example, card-not-present—or online—debit volume has increased considerably from last year. Do you have the right authorization and fraud strategies in place to take advantage of this trend? ... Have you made sure that your security messaging is clear, so your members feel comfortable shopping online? Are you seeing the same trends in credit? Or should you have other marketing or loyalty strategies as travel picks back up?” 

Finally, highlight your competitive advantages. Consider what distinguishes your card products from those of your competitors and whether you’re doing enough to communicate your cards’ advantages to current and prospective members. Investigate whether there are gaps in your strategy that you should invest in closing to remain competitive, Schwitters advises. 

Contactless

The adoption of tap-and-go and contactless payments did indeed accelerate thanks to the pandemic. Patrick reports that PSCU’s Payments Index has observed card-not-present transactions moving from nearly one-third of purchase volume in September 2019 to over half of credit card spending volume in September 2021. “In addition, we are seeing contactless transactions approaching 20% of card-present volume on contactless-enabled cards,” he says. “Credit unions should be focused on promoting the convenience of card-not-present and tap-and-go transactions and, for those … late adopters, bringing contactless cards to market in 2022.” 

Nowadays, it’s a must for every credit union to participate in and offer remote commerce capabilities and touchless payments in some form. Such features as digital wallet integration, contactless cards or QR code scan should absolutely be in your wheelhouse, says Manish Nathwani, SVP/product development at CUES Supplier member SHAZAM, Johnston, Iowa, a nationwide independent, member-owned debit network, processor and core provider supporting community banks and credit unions.

“The more consumer channels you allow for acceptance of your debit card or credit card, the better experience your members … are going to have,” he says. “It’s important that your credit union members can say, ‘My card can be accepted anywhere.’ From baby boomers through Gen Z, it’s critical, however, that personalizing the member/account-holder experience doesn’t get lost while attempting to offer an omnichannel experience with these types of transactions.”

Metrics to Measure

It’s impossible to know how your goals are coming along if you don’t have the right data benchmarks to check progress. “Visa provides benchmarking across three key metrics that we recommend you use to track and measure your credit union’s performance,” Schwitters says. The first is penetration: What is your addressable market—i.e., total number of demand deposit accounts, and of those, how many have a card? Second, consider activation, specifically how quickly a card is first used when it’s issued to a member. The third metric is usage, including how many times per month the member is using your card and in what locations or categories, such as grocery, travel and entertainment, and everyday spending.

“Other key metrics we suggest tracking across your broader card portfolio include payment volume by product (increases or decreases), payment channels (card not present versus card present), PIN and signature volumes, fraud and chargeback volume, all with an eye towards revenue and profitability,” Schwitters says. 

To get those nitty-gritty details, Nicholas recommends reaching out to the vendor that you’re partnered with, such as MasterCard or Visa. “They generally have the numbers and know the benchmarks,” she says. “You can use all their research to set your own benchmarks and goals.”

Lisa Nicholas
Director
Wipfli
Given the target audience, determine why you’re going to be their card of choice.

Rewards that Matter

It’s hard to overstate how important rewards are to card programs. “A credit card in the member wallet that has rewards becomes the card of choice nearly 45% of the time,” Pittman says. “The first goal in establishing a rewards program that matters is determining the appropriate ratio for dollars spent to points. Typically, we see a dollar spent to a reward point earned for credit cards. Then, make sure you have aligned your rewards program with the marketing initiatives to help promote and draw awareness to the member benefits of the card product.

“Lastly, offering merchandise redemption sites remains in demand,” adds Pittman. “However, those offerings have evolved dramatically from just the big screens and large ticket items to … gift cards, entertainment experiences, charitable donations or even real-time fuel points. Ensuring you have a variety of ‘must-have’ redemptions items is key to maximizing credit card rewards.”

“During the pandemic, we’ve seen a reimagining of rewards programs to meet the demands of changing consumer preferences,” Schwitters says. “Credit unions should set a goal of re-evaluating their reward offerings as a way to give more choice and flexibility to their members. 

“While consumer spending behaviors have shifted, what remains constant is that consumers want more flexibility in how they earn rewards. Some loyalty programs are now focusing on gamifying the program experience or even offering rewards in adjacent categories—think hotel brands offering points for local dining.” It’s also important for rewards to have higher perceived value. For example, travel rewards may now be seen as more valuable because of the travel restrictions that kept many people at home during the pandemic. 

Additionally, Schwitters suggests thinking about expanding how and where rewards can be redeemed. Alternative redemption options can include enabling members to convert their points into stored value or letting them unlock more benefits in return for higher spend. 

Remain Vigilant

Another payments service that has recently grown in popularity—for better or for worse—is microlending, specifically buy now, pay later. “Typically, credit cards offer extended credit with pretty high interest rates, as well as penalties if you don’t pay on time,” Nathwani says. “Keep an eye out on this [pay later] area and how it might impact your existing credit card program. Certainly, in the last six to 12 months, it’s gained a lot of traction.”

“Credit unions should remain vigilant,” Pittman says. “As members continue to embrace the value proposition set forth by the credit union movement and step away from the traditional banking models, the members will want to see the technology follow them into the credit union space. This will include digital receipt management, card controls and card maintenance in a single mobile application—digital payments processing with seamless integrations across all card platforms.”    

In other words, to truly rise above the crowd, credit unions need to go beyond baseline rewards programs and provide such bonus offerings as streamlined management tools to members. For example, Toronto-based Sensibill, which provides a digital receipt management solution, recently launched the Sensibill Platform and its invoice extraction API. Through a digital banking app, members can capture and store their receipts digitally for both personal and business expenses. That makes everything from filing taxes to meeting their monthly budgets much easier. Offering such features that help improve personal finances can be a big bonus for cardholders. The Sensibill Platform allows credit unions to analyze member spending data down to the SKU-level to improve personalization.

“In this constantly evolving world, you have to always be thinking … ‘What are the enhancements or technology tools that we have to make our card relevant to our members?’” says Zondag. Ultimately, credit unions are all about member relationships, and their credit card goals for 2022 must reflect that.  cues icon 

Celia Shatzman is a Brooklyn-based writer who has penned stories on topics ranging from beauty to fashion, finance, travel, celebrities, health and entertainment.

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