Card Affinity Programs at Colleges Show a Decline in Growth
The Federal Reserve's most recent report about cards issued in affinity with colleges and universities has shown how the overall college and university affinity market has contracted slightly over the last year but also provided credit unions with card-issuing opportunities.
The 2009 Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility, and Disclosure Act mandated the Fed's annual Report to Congress on college card agreements.
The report flows from the CARD Act requirement that institutions that issue cards in conjunction with a university or college have to provide a copy of the issuer agreement with the institution as well as the number of accounts flowing from the agreement and their overall balances.
According to the Fed's most recent report, the number of institutions that issue cards on behalf of a college or university grew by three. But the number of agreements, the total number of card accounts covered by those agreements, the amounts of payments to colleges and universities from those agreements and the number of new accounts the agreements generated over the course of a year were all down markedly.
The financial regulator reported that the number of agreements in effect at the beginning of 2010 dropped to 1,004, down from 1,045 in 2009, a 7% drop, with FIA Card Services, the card issuing arm of Bank of America reporting the biggest drop.
The Fed also reported that the college affinity card market only contracted more as the year went out, sliding by another 231 agreements by the end of 2010, again with FIA losing the lion's share at 214.
As might be expected, the declining number of card agreements also signaled a declining number of open and active card accounts, a drop overall of 17%, from just over two million in 2009 to just over 1.7 million at the end of 2010. Likewise, the amounts of money affinity card issuers paid to their affiliated institutions dropped by 13%, from roughly $84.5 million in 2099 to roughly $73.3 million in 2010.
Card analysts blame the CARD Act's regulations for shutting down some programs but acknowledged as well that the economics of card issuing had also made it more difficult to run an affinity card program that generated enough profits to share between the issuer and the partner.
But the report also made it clear that while the college affinity card market has been shrinking overall, it has also been increasing for credit union card issuers.
For example, the report found three of the four financial institutions that began issuing credit cards in affinity with a college or university in 2010 were credit unions.
The report revealed that the Pen Air Federal Credit Union launched an affinity card program with the University of West Florida Foundation in 2010. And the University of Illinois Employees Credit Union launched an affinity card program with the University of Illinois Alumni Association, and the USC Credit Union began issuing cards in affinity with the University of Southern California Alumni Association.
The report also revealed that Pen Air FCU and the University of Illinois FCU won those affinity card programs from FIA Card Services, indicating that CUs were ready to pick up business that FIA had been willing to abandon.
FIA has said for the record that it was reviewing its affinity card programs and that it was backing out of some smaller markets, but declined to comment further.
Because it began issuing cards in 2011, the $1.9 billion Michigan State University Federal Credit Union's new affiliate program missed the deadline for inclusion in the 2010 report. Nonetheless, it joined the ranks of CUs that have picked up affinity card issuing relationships that were previously held by FIA.
The credit union announced in March that it had partnered with Michigan State University to issue a credit card to university alumni, fans, faculty and staff.
“We are pleased to be able to offer this fantastic affinity credit card to MSU supporters that not only allows them to reinforce their commitment to the university, it provides financial support to Michigan State University student programs, and offers our members a card with a great low interest rate, low fees, and the ability to show their Spartan pride,” said Patrick McPharlin, MSUFCU CEO when the program launched. “MSUFCU already offers what we believe are the most consumer friendly credit cards, and by providing our members with a card that supports their alma matter, everybody wins.”
The potential power a credit union and college or university affinity card can have came through in the report which detailed how the Purdue Federal Credit Union and the University of Illinois Employees Credit Union were among the affinity card programs that opened the most new accounts in 2010. Purdue opened over 2,600 new accounts on behalf of the Purdue Alumni Association and University of Illinois Employees opened 779 accounts on behalf of the University of Illinois Alumni Association.