Aiming to attract new customers and show civic pride, two midwestern community banks have introduced affinity credit cards that benefit local schools.
Both have homespun touches: One bank has decorated its cards with the picture of a high school mascot, a human corncob named Cornelius. The other has placed three school-district logos on its cards, alongside a pile of school books and an apple for the teacher.
The latter, Continental Community Bank of Maywood, Ill., aims to attract 1,500 cardholders over the next three years and to generate about $45,000 in revenue for the three schools it is backing.
This card program "is not going to be a panacea for the school funding problem, but it is a creative way to generate revenue," said Charles Race, senior loan officer at Continental Community Bank.
Affinity cards that support schools have been around for several years, serving as supplements to cash-starved local budgets. Community banks have been turning to them more often to bolster card programs and show customers how caring they are.
"The cards benefit both the bank and the school system," said a spokeswoman for CorTrust Bank of Mitchell, S.D. CorTrust calls its corncob card "Kernel Pride" and dedicates a portion of revenues to technology education in Mitchell schools.
A second CorTrust affinity card, named "President's Bowl" in honor of Mount Rushmore, funds extracurricular activities at three high schools in Sioux Falls, S.D.
Frances M. Dale, president of Entandem, a Sterling, Va.-based consulting firm, said banks are issuing these cards "because of the community involvement" and because the programs generate "greater loyalty, more volume, and less attrition" than some other affinity cards.
Ms. Dale said local affinity cards are a good way for community banks to bring more credit card customers into their folds. "Consumers have some loyalty in terms of other services with their community bank, but quite frequently they have a credit card with a bank outside the area," she said.
Adding card customers is a goal at Continental Community Bank. Mr. Race said his bank would donate extra funds based on the number of new accounts opened during a 45-day promotion.
The schools will receive $2,500 if 200 cards are issued within that period and $3,500 if 2,000 cards are issued.
"The bottom line is, we are supporting something that is very important to our local community, which is keeping our schools strong," Mr. Race said.
Mr. Race said the Illinois Legislature recently enacted tax caps that "limit the amount of tax revenue that schools can generate." To help boost revenues, Continental Community is donating one-third of the interchange fee generated by purchases made with its no-fee card. Donations will be divided equally among the three school districts.
The card will have a fixed interest rate of 12.9%; senior citizens will pay a rate of 11.9%.
The cards being issued by CorTrust, the $180 million-asset South Dakota bank, work in a similar way but have slightly different terms. Both cards carry an introductory interest rate of 7.9%, which jumps to a fixed rate of 14.8% after March 1. Cardholders can also benefit from discounts on travel and glasses.