(New York, NY) As the UK prepares to vote on whether to remain in the European Union, Britons debate the strength of their ties to Europe. When it comes to their financial behavior, however, they are clearly more similar to their American, rather than their Continental, cousins. While usage of credit cards in European markets such as France and Germany remain stubbornly low, both the US and the UK are reporting rapidly mounting levels of credit card debt, approaching levels not seen since the heady days preceding the financial crisis. And while the US is usually seen as the poster child for “buy now, pay later,” UK cardholders aren’t so different, nearly equally likely to revolve balances on at least one card, according to newly released research from Auriemma Group, which conducted parallel studies in both markets.
Although on opposite sides of the northern Atlantic, payment behavior in the US and the UK is eerily similar, save a few key differences. It’s true, on average, US consumers hold more credit cards than their UK counterparts (2.3 vs. 1.9), but an equal proportion (26%) of each market frequently carries a balance on them. American and British consumers are also nearly identical when looking at balance transfers (10% vs. 13%), missed payments (11% vs. 13%), and credit card inactivity (24% vs. 27%) within the past year. “We generally find the same things important, but perhaps to varying degrees,” says Jaclyn Holmes, the Auriemma senior manager who directed the study. “This also translates when examining payment behavior. US cardholders, for example, are more likely to be incentivized by rewards or cashback offers, but both populations select this as the top offer that would make them use less frequently used cards more.”
A majority of consumers in both markets (65% in the US, 59% in the UK) cite the most obvious reason, “high spending,” for revolving balances. These revolvers try to pay off the credit card with the highest APR first, but UK cardholders more frequently cite allocating extra funds to paying off the card they use most frequently (22% vs. 16%). “Britons don’t want to lose access to that credit line,” says Holmes. “Twice as many UK cardholders say they rely on borrowing to afford day-to-day purchases so paying down that card first makes sense.”
Borrowing, of course, isn’t just limited to credit cards. Consumers in the US and the UK both cite taking out a mortgage (69% vs. 62%), emergencies (59% vs. 56%), and making large purchases (33% vs. 32%) as justifiable reasons to borrow. Auto loans, however, are much more widely held in the US (61% vs. 40%), while UK cardholders more often cite funding a creative project (23% vs. 15%) or managing cash flow (17% vs. 13%). “About one-third of each market has taken out a personal loan, but UK cardholders are nearly twice as likely to borrow for debt consolidation,” says Holmes. “Britons believe the repayment schedule would be easier with a personal loan, while those in the US more often cite wanting to build their credit history.”
For financial institutions wishing to better understand consumers across the pond, the good news is that payment behavior is generally similar regardless of locale. “Sure, US and UK consumers are not carbon copies of one another,” says Holmes, “but, based on our research, it looks like we are more alike than some may initially think.”
Cardbeat US was conducted online within the United States by an independent field service provider on behalf of Auriemma Consulting Group in April 2016, among 800 U.S. credit card users. Cardbeat UK was conducted online among 500 credit cardholders in the U.K. during March 2016. The number of interviews completed is sufficient to allow for statistical significance testing between sub-groups at the 95% confidence level ± 5%, unless otherwise noted. The purpose of the research was not disclosed nor did the respondents know the criteria for qualifying.
About Auriemma Group
Auriemma is a boutique management consulting firm with specialized focus on the Payments and Lending space. We deliver actionable solutions and insights that add value to our clients’ business activities across a broad set of industry topics and disciplines. Founded in 1984, ACG has grown from a one-man shop to a nearly 50-person firm with offices in New York and London. For more information, contact Jaclyn Holmes at (212) 323-7000.