Five Ways to Stimulate Increased Debit Card Usage

Once a consumer is onboard, constant reminders that remind people about helpful features while avoiding the annoyance threshold will keep your institution's debit card front of mind (and wallet).

Debit card programs — and interchange revenue — are under growing pressure. Venmo, PayPal and Square’s Cash App, among others, are siphoning off usage from traditional financial institutions.

Having a modern, feature-rich debit card is critical, but that’s just for starters. Debit programs need to be reinvigorated constantly to reclaim wallet share and to give their customers reasons to use the card and add it to a digital wallet. Actively marketing your debit card program is one way to do that. For bank leaders looking to build a stronger marketing strategy for their debit card programs, here are five key points to consider.

1. Activation of the Card is Key to All Else

Wise marketers say a company must win when the customer first meets the product. When account holders open that envelope and read a financial institution’s card carrier, job number one is to get them to activate the card immediately. Accordingly, the process should be simple, and easy and seamless as possible.

Yes, a customer can call a number on the activation sticker. If they do, is activating the card and setting a PIN the first option? It should be. Better yet, in this digital age, offer the option of going online to activate the card. Many financial institutions do, so those that do not offer this option are falling behind. How about activation through a mobile app? Many customers expect that today.

2. Onboarding is Critical to Making Usage Front of Mind

Once a consumer activates, a plan should be in place to encourage greater use. Many companies that offer a subscription or service will send new users an onboarding series via email or other channel.

When was the last time a card holder received any marketing for your debit card? Credit card companies do it. Other software applications and services do it, but banks and credit unions largely don’t.

A good onboarding series can do wonders. Sure, banks and credit unions use the card carrier to promote some features, but how many people really read the card carrier or keep it around. Typically it gets a once over at most, and then goes in the trash.

That’s why issuers should consider an onboarding series to educate the account holder on the benefits of carrying and using their new debit card.

Remember the Rule of 7:

People need to hear messages repeatedly to make them stick. Often it is stated that a consumer must hear a message seven times before taking action.

Financial institutions need their card to be top of wallet to drive revenue and build usage. Give account holders a reason to keep it there. Is the card contactless? Talk about it. Compatible with the popular digital wallets? Educate the account holder on how to load it into their favorite digital wallet. Does the card pay rewards? Shout it out!

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3. Focus on a Single Feature

It can be tempting to squeeze a laundry list of features in an email to an account holder. After all, there are many benefits and features to share and bank marketers don’t want to send too many messages to their account holders too much (more on that later).

Messages Aren’t Steamer Trunks:

The temptation is to tout multiple features in each marketing message. That is a mistake.

People have short attention spans and no patience for reading long, drawn-out marketing messages. Keep it short, keep it simple and keep it to a single feature. Shorter marketing messages frequently will yield much better results than less frequent, lengthier attempts.

One caveat: Sometimes a longer message can be very effective.

Just make sure the key point is up front. If, for instance, a card pays rewards and that feature needs to be reinforced in every message, fine. Just mention it after the main point or feature that is being promoted.

Some people will read longer messages, but most won’t. This way financial marketers get their main point across to everyone and reinforce secondary messages to those who are inclined to read more.

4. Communicate as Frequently as is Practical

Most banks and credit unions are afraid to market too often to their account holders. We’ve all been taught that pushy, frequent marketing is “not the financial institution way.”

It is time to rethink that.

Banks and credit unions provide essential services and products and there is no reason not to educate account holders about them. After all, this is not hounding them to extend a car warranty.

Provided each message is designed with the account holder in mind and meant to help them — a more convenient way to do things, a safer way to do things, a more profitable way to do things — account holders will appreciate it and start seeing their bank as a trusted advisor.

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And if marketing leaders are honest with themselves, some of the most successful financial institutions market aggressively.

For example, I signed up for a Chime account in late January. I received 12 emails in the first 10 days after opening the account. The next month it slowed down, but I still got 11 emails in February. Everyone knows how successful Chime has been — and they market aggressively.

5. Selecting the Right Marketing Channels

Once a bank has decided they want to market more aggressively, the question becomes one of tactics. How should you do it? Email? Direct mail? Text? Yes to all.

Rely on Change-Ups:

One way to market more frequently without “inconveniencing” the account holder is to vary the channel.

If a bank sends seven or eight emails in a month, marketers may think they run the risk of alienating account holders. But adjust that to three or four emails, one or two direct mails, and two or three SMS messages, and the bank stays in front of the customer in different ways. The messages overall will seem less intrusive and there is the added benefit that someone who may not read emails will scan your direct mails and vice versa … and everyone reads SMS messages.

SMS open rates are as high as 98%, according to Gartner research, while financial email open rates are closer to 25%. Even better, marketers have reported better success with fewer SMS messages (four to six) per month, while email requires a much greater frequency to get results. If you’ve been hesitant to try SMS marketing, rethink that, but the bottom line is to vary marketing channels.

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