IN THEIR RELENTLESS attempts to finally make debit cards a household name, some banks have started to target nontraditional audiences.
Columbus Bank and Trust Co., for example, has gone back to school - not to take classes, but to muster up new fee income and foster future customer relationships with students.
"We've begun treating students like customers and hit the campus to drum up new business," said Connie Mansour, vice president and manager of product development at the Columbus, Ga.-based bank.
CB&T, a unit of Synovus Financial Corp. with $1.2 billion in assets, is providing students, faculty, and staff at Florida State University, Tallahassee, with the unique service: one photo ID card that can be used at automated teller machines and point-of-sale terminals and for long distance telephone calls.
"Rather than having to carry around a dozen different cards, we provide students at FSU with only card for everything from banking to shopping," Ms. Mansour said.
With the new FSUCard, students make cash withdrawals or deposits from their accounts and make purchases off-campus at more than 200 participating retail outlets and businesses. The card is accepted for payment of goods at retail stores, restaurants, grocery stores, gas stations, and recreation halls.
The card is also used to access MCI long distance calling services, make direct tuition payments, purchase textbooks and other school supplies, take out books from the university library, and use vending machines on campus at a discount.
"Aside from the special functions, the card is the basic student ID, which students use to get access to buildings," Ms. Mansour said.
In this way, CB&T has begun to look at students in a different light - as a vast, untapped source of new business, rather than just as "college kids." As a result, the 688-employee bank is racking up on fee income and planting seeds for account growth down the road.
Future relationships is the key," said Art Clark, partner at Business Dynamics, a Nyack, N.Y.-based consulting firm. "There is obviously a broader strategy in place here to get customers to use debit cards but, banks are really looking out for the future. Banks are particularly interested in attracting younger customers because it allows them to gain momentum with them."
While a number of universities across the country - including Penn State, Brown, and Duke - already offer debit cards to their students, FSU is the very first to tie its card to a bank.
"Getting the bank involved put more purchasing power at the students' fingertips and helped us provide a level of service unmatched at other schools," said Al Gilligan, director of business services at Florida State. "Students like having one card to handle on-campus stuff, but they absolutely love the idea that they can bank with it as well."
Ms. Mansour said the program allows CB&T to set the stage for future business with the more than 35,000 students that use the card. The bank has a captive customer audience to which it can pitch other types of accounts and an array of bank products, such as student and auto loans and investment products.
"We're catching students at what is probably the best time to start a banking relationship. As students approach graduation they start planning for the future and part of that is investment and loans," Ms. Mansour said. "The program is about generating fee income, of course, but it's also about making new account relationships."
When cardholders make purchases using the FSUCard, it debits their funds on deposit at Tallahassee State Bank, a CB&T affiliate. The processing is done by Total System Services. Tallahassee State Bank issues the cards.
"We like the idea of providing more services to young customers while at the same time improving our own standing with them and the local community of merchants," said W. Booker Moore, president and chief executive of Tallahassee State Bank.
To handle the many functions offered on the FSUCard, CB&T uses Diebold Inc.'s Integrated Access Management System, an access control system that uses a single identification card for a variety of purposes.
The benefit to students is clear: convenience and functionality. The card combines access to the college's resources with the cost-effective convenience of an electronic checkbook.
"It's a real convenience," said Matt Cates, a Florida State sophomore majoring in business finance. "By having an account at a local bank we can put money down and use it all over campus and at the ATMs. We don't have to carry cash, which makes things easier and safer for us."
Mr. Cates never leaves the dormitory without his FSUCard, which he uses regularly at local movie theaters, billiard halls, and sporting goods stores.
"You can use it just about anywhere. It's really changed life on campus," he said.
By offering the card, FSU also does pretty well. On the operations side, the university unifies and integrates organizational systems; thereby reducing operational and administrative costs. On the revenue side, the university gets new income for campus services and fees.
Getting retailers involved in the program has been a snap so far, according to Ms. Mansour. The allure is that by accepting the debit cards they maintain student business, she said.
Merchants can also significantly reduce their credit risk by having each debit card transaction immediately preapproved and guaranteed. For local merchants that has translated into fewer checks from students.
"Retailers are extremely excited about the program and they're lining up to get involved in it as more and more realize that students are patronizing outlets where they can use their university debit card," Ms. Mansour said.
On the basis of that interest, Florida State is actively solicting 1,500 new merchants in the area.
More broadly, CB&T and Tow Systems Services are currently negotiating agreements with at least 11 universities nationwide to offer similar multi-function student ID cards.
Looking forward, Ms. Mansour said that a number of enhancements to the service are in the works. One is direct deposit of student loans and financial aid awards, currently distributed by check.
"We're helping Florida State achieve a check-free environment. Any chance we have to automate services and increase debit card use is a benefit to the school, to us, and to the industry," Ms. Mansour said, indicating that CB&T is making strides to make sure that debit cards become a big part of the bank's future.