Regional banks are slowly chipping away at big banks’ dominance in credit card lending.
While Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and Capital One Financial remain the industry’s undisputed heavyweights, they are facing increased competition from the likes of SunTrust Banks, KeyCorp and Huntington Bancshares, all of which reported increases in card balances of 20% or more over the past year.
Even with card defaults ticking up slightly, regionals remain committed to pursuing more credit card business as they aim to both diversify their balance sheets and deepen relationships with customers. Rather than marketing to the masses, regionals are primarily targeting existing checking account customers who may have credit cards with one of megabanks.
“It’s a relationship product,” Bill Rogers, the CEO of Atlanta-based SunTrust, said at an industry conference earlier this month. “Part of what you see with credit cards is not only the credit card’s results itself, but our ability to penetrate and be more relevant, and increase our overall profitability of relationships.”
Experts are quick to note that card portfolios at the industry’s midsize banks are still relatively small, typically around 2% of total loans. By contrast, credit card loans account for nearly 14% JPMorgan Chase’s total loans at March 31 and nearly 24% of Citigroup’s, according to Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. data. Combined, those two companies control more than 31% of the credit card market.
Still, regionals are seeing some modest gains in overall market share. SunTrust’s share of outstanding credit card loans increased by 4 basis points in 2016 from a year earlier, to 0.16%, according to data from PaymentsSource, while Key’s climbed 3 basis points, to 0.12% and Huntington’s increased 4 basis points, to 0.07%.
Bankers and other industry experts say regionals have good reasons for trying to encroach on big banks’ turf. Chief among them is diversifying their loan portfolios, which are heavily weighted toward commercial and commercial real estate loans.
“They want a little more balance, so there’s been a focus on the consumer side,” said Peter Winter, an analyst with Wedbush Securities.
Additionally, as promotional offers start expiring on high-benefit, high-cost cards that have hit the market in the past year — such as the popular Chase Sapphire Reserve — regionals may sense an opportunity to grab some market share, said Brian Riley, director of credit card services at Mercator Advisory Group.
“That’s a really good reason to see the regional banks become active right now,” Riley said, noting that large banks may soon have a “retention problem” on their hands.
Across the industry, household credit card debt climbed 7% in the past year, to $760 billion, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
The increase in credit card spending suggests that regionals are starting to find their footing in a market that they shunned for years.
Until recently, many regionals offered branded cards that were issued through big banks. But after the Durbin amendment took effect, limiting interchange revenue on debit card transactions, several banks bought back their portfolios to make up for the decline in fees.
For instance, after selling its portfolio in the late 1990s, Cleveland-based KeyCorp bought back its $725 million portfolio of branded card assets in 2012 from Elan Financial Services, a unit of U.S. Bancorp. A year earlier, Regions Financial of Birmingham, Ala., bought back a $1 billion portfolio from a subsidiary of Bank of America.
Both banks have moved quickly to ramp up their credit card businesses. During the first quarter, Key expanded its card portfolio by 33% from a year earlier, to just over $1 billion, thanks in part to its acquisition of First Niagara Financial Group last summer. Regions’ card book increased by 10% year over year, to about $1.1 billion.
Still, it’s worth noting that regionals are ramping up in cards at a time when chargeoffs are on the rise.
During the first quarter, net card chargeoffs across the industry jumped 22% from a year earlier, according to the FDIC. Additionally, during this year’s round of stress tests, the Federal Reserve put a strong focus on credit cards, testing banks’ exposure to potential losses. According to the Fed’s stress test results, published Thursday, losses from credit cards would top $100 billion, or 9% more than last year, if economic conditions were to deteriorate severely.
“The market is saturated,” said Riley, the Mercator analyst, noting that the fierce competition for customers is pushing some banks to take on riskier customers.
Yet for companies that lend to consumers with solid credit scores, the timing couldn’t be better. The unemployment rate is low, and home prices are on the rise, both signs that the financial health of consumers is on the upswing.
Bankers say that cross-selling credit cards is a key priority in their attempts to boost profitability in relationships with existing customers.
Credit card balances at the $201 billion-asset SunTrust increased 24% last year, to about $1.4 billion. Rogers said he expects the double-digit pace of growth to continue.
PNC is also looking to push more cards. The Pittsburgh company entered the business when it acquired National City in Cleveland, at the height of the financial crisis, in 2009.
During an investor conference in May, CEO William Demchak said that PNC is trying to catch up with its peers when it comes to consumer lending. About 20% of PNC’s customers have a credit relationship with the company, compared with about 35% at other regionals, he said.
“We see an opportunity to get our fair share without changing our risk profile, or diving into subprime,” Demchak said.