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Card Benefits May Sweeten Program Offering, But Few Drive Usage

(New York, NY):  With the rewards war in full swing, the sustainability of some benefits has come into question, causing issuers to think critically about what they offer. Recent research from Auriemma Group’s Cardbeat® report identified the most and least important card acquisition drivers, highlighted the benefits that most impact usage, and revealed a general lack of consumer awareness for ancillary benefits. The study discovered that while card benefits may play a key role in acquisition, there is an untapped opportunity to have them more greatly impact card usage.

Glitzy benefits—contactless pay, VIP experiences, cards made from heavier metals—may pique a credit cardholder’s interest, but they are ranked[1] as least important when applying for a new credit card. Pragmatic factors, like no annual fee, rewards that never expire, and ID theft protection, on the other hand, hold the highest importance.

“Nonessential factors should be scrutinized heavily, especially if they are costly to maintain,” says Jaclyn Holmes, Director of Payment Insights at Auriemma. “Benefits that aren’t driving the desired cardholder behavior could be replaced by those that have a greater impact on spend, satisfaction, acquisition, and retention.”

Issuers must balance between benefits cardholders find important at acquisition and those that just sweeten the deal. While the most important benefits could be considered essential to a card program, less important benefits are still nice-to-have. And these nice-to-have benefits should be selected strategically—with an issuer’s target audience in mind.

Card benefits, however, are more than just acquisition drivers; they are an untapped opportunity to complement rewards offerings and can further drive usage. For all 37 benefits tested in the study—including general, experiential, monetary, protection, and travel—most respondents offered them say losing respective benefits would have little to no impact on their card usage. As an example, 65% of respondents said losing VIP experiences would have little to no impact on their card usage; 63% say the same for airport lounge access; and 61% for vacation package discounts.

“Rewards earned for spending on a card, like cashback or points, and redemption options are a key driver to usage,” says Holmes. “Additional program benefits can fortify a card’s value, but losing them would only nominally impact usage.”

And what’s more—as many as 55% of rewards cardholders didn’t know if any of their cards offer one of the benefits tested. So, while benefits may influence card acquisition, the lack of benefit awareness limits the card’s overall value potential and hinders the impact on usage, especially for those who don’t know they have them.

“Issuers should reinforce key card benefits valued by cardholders, especially those with the greatest likelihood to increase spend and loyalty, such as accelerated points earned on spend categories, waived fees on ancillary benefits, statement credits, and no blackout dates for using points,” says Holmes. “By communicating timely reminders in a way that demonstrates how a specific card feature can enhance a cardholder’s experience, issuers can capitalize on the acquisition, usage, and retention gains that its program benefits can provide.”

Survey Methodology

This study was conducted online within the US by an independent field service provider on behalf of Auriemma Consulting Group (Auriemma) in June 2018, among 800 US adults credit cardholders. Respondents were recruited from an independent web panel. The purpose of the research was not disclosed nor did respondents know the criteria for qualifying. The average interview length was 20 minutes.

[1] Cardbeat included maximum differential scaling exercise where 15 benefits were compared to determine the most and least influential factors when applying for a credit card.


About Auriemma 

For more than 30 years, Auriemma’s mission has been to empower clients with authoritative data and actionable insights. Our team comprises recognized experts in four primary areas: operational effectiveness, consumer research, co-brand partnerships, and corporate finance. Our business intelligence and advisory services give clients access to the data, expertise and tools they need to navigate an increasingly complex environment and maximize their performance. Auriemma serves the consumer financial services ecosystem from our offices in New York City and London. For more information, call Jaclyn Holmes at (212) 323-7000.

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