Why First Bankcard Provides Free FICO Scores to Cardholders Online

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First Bankcard has collected FICO scores for decades to determine credit card borrower creditworthiness. So when FICO debuted a free program to lenders earlier this year to make the scores available to consumers, the Nebraska issuer made a move to become one of the first companies to implement the offering.

"Why not share [the scores], since we are paying for it anyway?" Mihaela Kobjerowski, vice president at First Bankcard, an issuer with more than 400 partners, recalls. "It seemed like a win-win."

After all, the consumer gets to see how the lender calculates his riskiness, and the issuer over time could get more loyal cardholders who pay on time. "We had contemplated sharing the score we use to measure credit scores with customers for a long time," Kobjerowski says. "We were super excited we could do it."

First Bankcard made the online content available to 80,000 customers of its parent company, First National Bank of Omaha, in late October and plans to grow out the pilot with additional bank partners in 2014.

In addition to viewing the credit score including which credit reporting service the number is sourced from the cardholder also sees context to the numbers, including the top two reasons for the score, such as a high ratio of balance to balance limit, and tips to improve the credit score. Links that take a visitor to credit score educational information are also made available.

The initiative, which is available to all lenders that work with analytics software company FICO, comes at a time when regulators are pressuring banks to become more transparent with consumers. Barclaycard US and Discover have also joined the so-called FICO Score Open Access. FICO partners can choose which channels they want to use to make the information available to consumers and the frequency with which the content is refreshed. At First Bankcard, credit score information is updated monthly and made available online, which required the issuer to create a special webpage. When First Bankcard receives its monthly FICO update, it sends the same data feed to the webpage.

The project, like all financial services efforts, took time to execute. From planning to launching with its first bank partner took First Bankcard 10 months.

There's training of customer care representatives, for one. And the issuer needed to create an intuitive customer experience and answer questions like: what if the consumer stopped using the card, and in turn, the issuer stopped pulling a credit score should it leave the last credit score used or a blank screen to the cardholder logging in? (It settled on showing the last credit score used with a time stamp.)

Currently, the experience, works like this: a person signs into an account and sees a banner ad about the FICO score. Then, after clicking, he will get directed to a webpage that shows the score and other information that refreshes monthly.

Still, the majority of scores will unlikely change more than 20 points month to month, says Kobjerowski. Excepting, of course, a major life event like a bankruptcy.

There are multiple scores lenders can draw from and other data used to impact underwriting decisions. First Bankcard shares the score used in the credit card decision.

Since debuting the free credit score service in October, the issuer has seen 15% of the 80,000 bank customers view their credit scores at least once. "We think it's good," Kobjerowski says. "We are testing a lot of different marketing channels to make consumers aware and learn what channel is most effective."

And so far, calls coming in are questions around when customers who have to yet to become part of the program can view their credit score data. "It wasn't at all an issue of confusion," she says. "This tells us consumers really know what a credit score is and what a FICO score is."

To that point, the issuer is working to make the feature available to more of its bank partners in 2014. Among the new partners will be First Midwest Bank and Union Bank.

First Bankcard issues credit cards for hundreds of banks and anticipates pulling scores for 2.5 million consumers, all told. "The feedback has been great from partner banks," says Kobjerowski. "They seem onboard and happy to offer [the program] to consumers."

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