Hundreds of dollars in Uber rides, access to luxury airport lounges and big stacks of cash — no wonder credit card customers are more satisfied than ever.
The result of this card-rewards feeding frenzy is that banks and card issuers posted boffo scores in this year’s J.D. Power Credit Card Satisfaction Study — including some of the highest scores since the ranking began 11 years ago.
American Express was No. 1 this year (835 on a scale of 1,000), followed by Discover Financial Services (827) and Capital One Financial (808), among banks with more than 4 million active accounts.
In a new twist, J.D. Power also separately ranked issuers with fewer than 4 million active accounts, the first time these smaller players were included in the study. The $81 billion-asset USAA in San Antonio (871) was tops in this category, followed by the $124 billion-asset Regions Financial in Birmingham, Ala., (814) and the $215 billion-asset BB&T in Winston-Salem, N.C., (797).
Banks are falling all over themselves to offer the best card rewards programs. The primo rewards are aimed at the most affluent consumers (or, at least, the most profligate spenders). But even the mass market can find very tempting offers without looking too hard.
“There has never been a better time to be a credit card customer,” said Jim Miller, senior director of the banking practice at J.D. Power. “The offers out there are fantastic.”
While the rewards battle may be great for consumers, it remains an open question whether it is good for banks’ bottom line. Some industry analysts have questioned whether the rewards packages have become so rich that they are unsustainable. In one example, JPMorgan Chase had offered 100,000 bonus points to new enrollees in its Sapphire Reserve card — an amount equal to $1,000. JPMorgan later cut the offer to 50,000 bonus points.
Citigroup, Bank of America, U.S. Bancorp and Amex have all marketed cards recently that target high-net-worth consumers. These luxury rewards cards carry high annual fees, which banks bet affluent customers are willing to pay in exchange for the myriad rewards.
Credit card purveyors have calculated that big spending to lure more consumers into the fold will pay dividends in the long run, with the potential to sell multiple products and services to the same customer, Miller said.
“It’s the long-term relationship that matters,” Miller said.
Still, the end of the days of overspending on rewards programs may be in sight. Some executives have recently said that they are reining in overly rich rewards and that they have noticed their rivals doing the same.
“I feel like over the last 12 months that the rewards competition, after a big ramp-up, has sort of plateaued, though it’s still at a high level,” Discover Chairman and CEO David Nelms said during a July 26 conference call. “A number of people have pulled back a bit.”
The scores are tabulated from a survey of about 23,000 credit card customers conducted between September and June. The consumers were canvassed for their opinions on how well their credit card providers performed in customer interactions; the financial terms of their card agreements; issues with billing and payments; the appeal of their rewards programs; other benefits and services; and how they resolved problems. Nineteen companies were scored in total.
Amex vaulted back to the top of J.D. Power’s list, replacing former top dog Discover, after surviving a rough stretch that included the loss of its partnership with the warehouse-club retailer Costco.
“Amex has put a lot more focus on their members and in revamping their products,” Miller said.
Wells Fargo, which has a smaller card portfolio compared with its megabank peers, ranked third from the bottom in the J.D. Power list with a score of 775. Wells Fargo’s poor rating was mostly tied to consumers’ impressions of the San Francisco bank in the aftermath of its fake-accounts scandal, Miller said.
The $222 million-asset Credit One Bank in Las Vegas earned the lowest score (735) among card issuers with at least 4 million active accounts.