Stories about credit unions selling card portfolios and then returning to card issuing have become relatively commonplace, but few have re-launched as well as the Velocity Credit Union.
The 73,000-member, $659 million Austin, Texas, credit union sold its credit card portfolio in 2007 to TNB Card Services, the former card processing arm of credit union-owned Town North Bank.
TNB Card Services then sold its agent issuing portfolio to Elan in May 2009 as the bank sought to maintain its capital position during the Great Recession. The bank sold TNB Card Services to Vantiv (then Fifth Third Processing Solutions) in 2010.
Carol Cain, senior vice president for marketing at Velocity, said the credit union had not been particularly displeased with its agent issuing partner, but has concluded over the course of the five-year contract that it really wanted to get back into card issuing again.
“We had a number of our members who had been saying how they wished we were issuing our own cards again,” Cain explained. “So we were watching the calendar for the end of 2012 when we could start.”
But that determination to begin as soon as possible left the credit union with a dilemma. If they launched the new card in December of 2012, the news would arrive during the biggest shopping period of the year but also right at the moment when members might be most distracted by holiday preparation and travel, Cain explained.
So Velocity opted for what Cain called “soft launch,” a direct mail piece to a targeted number of its members with the help of Card Services for Credit Unions, the association of credit unions which process card transactions with FIS.
The mailing produced unprecedented results, with a 10% response rate to the credit union's 2.9% annual percentage rate six month offer, combined with no fees for balance transfers.
Subsequent direct mailings in January and email blasts achieved similar results, giving the credit union 500 new card accounts by mid-April and taking only 70 days to reach the first $1 million in credit card balances.
The soft launch, combined with the balance transfer offer in January, right when the holiday bills started coming in, helped create a lot of buzz about the new card, Cain added, and helped keep the launch energized.
Velocity will continue to offer its six-month, 2.9% introductory rate for new card holders indefinitely and the cards will revert to fixed rate based on risk assessment once the initial six months is over.
Cain emphasized that the credit union viewed the re-launch as an opportunity to start the card program off on a solid footing and so had sought to strike an effective balance between opportunity and risk with the new card accounts.
While she would not comment on specific aspects of Velocity's card underwriting, Cain said the credit union had sought to offer a card to as many members as it could within some broad but reasonable parameters.