An executive with CO-OP Financial Services reported that the ATM, EFT and shared branching CUSO will begin offering credit card processing to its participating credit unions in 2010.
"I would say that [card processing] is on the 2010 horizon," said Jennifer Kerry, vice president for card services for CO-OP. Kerry said the CUSO was preparing to take this step because many of its participating credit unions had asked the CUSO to begin offering a card processing product.
When it launches, CO-OP credit card processing will enter an already crowded market for CU card processing, competing with FIS, PSCU Financial Services, The Members Group, TNB Card Services, PEMCO and TSYS.
CO-OP hired Kerry, a former executive with FIS in February of 2009 to help prepare the organization to offer the service and recently added Jim Blouin, a former card program and portfolio analyst also with FIS, as regional sales manager. Both executives recently introduced what they said was a predominantly positive credit card picture for the year ahead.
Kerry generally praised card processors for having done a thorough job of bringing credit unions up to date on their additional responsibilities under the Credit CARD Act of 2009 and that now it remained for credit unions to begin to help translate that act to their members.
Kerry and Blouin pointed out that since virtually no credit unions had done any of the sorts of things that the CARD Act was meant to correct, they had an opportunity to both point that out to their members while offering their own cards as well as helping members understand what their bank issuers were doing.
"There are so many people getting these letters about changes to their [bank issued] cards that I think this is a real opportunity for credit unions to say to their members, 'You know, bring us the letter and we can explain what is going on for you," Kerry said. As the same time perhaps marketing the CU's card or even offering the member a fix-rate loan they could use to pay of that card at a lower interest rate than the bank issuer might have charged.
The two executives also downplayed some of the controversy over whether or not credit unions should take fixed-rate care offerings to variable rate. Blouin said he saw nothing in the CARD Act that would necessarily make a credit union fixed-rate card unprofitable if the program is run well. On the other hand, Kerry noted that moving to a variable-rate schedule gives the credit union flexibility for the future without locking the credit union into actually changing the rate.
Both executives stressed that the CARD Act gives credit unions a chance to do what they do best, put the best interest of their members four square at the center of their card offerings. This could be particularly important as credit unions weigh how to manage their risk in the changing economy moving forward.
During the early 2000s, many credit unions had a very conservative stance toward their card programs. For example, many kept credit lines on the cards so low that they effectively inhibited card use and stifled portfolio growth. Relatively few credit unions offered platinum cards or rewards programs as well. Gradually, after Blouin and many other CU card analysts urged them to do so, more credit unions began to liberalize their card offerings more by offering platinum cards, rewards programs and expanding credit lines.
Credit unions should be cautious about how they deploy these tools in the future, Blouin said, but should not retreat entirely from offering them and should work more closely with members to make sure their needs remained central to the credit union. For example, a member who might have previously planned on using a credit line on their credit card to finance adding a deck onto the back of his or her house might be better served with another sort of loan that had a debit card attached to it for ease of use.
The changing economy did give the executives an opportunity to reiterate what they said had their long standing message. Credit unions should re-score at least part, if not all, of their credit card portfolio every year to both prepare against any unwelcome surprises from their cardholders and just to keep up with changes in their members' financial lives.
Blouin used an example of a credit union member who might have been issued a card while he or she was in college. Upon graduating, they might have gone on to a significantly better paying job, while their credit card remained saddled with a $1,500 credit line. Re-scoring a card portfolio can help keep credit unions apprised of changes like these, Blouin pointed out.