In the third quarter of last year, Americans had a total of 368 million total open credit card accounts, more than one for each man, woman, and child in the population. Revolving U.S. credit card debt topped $1 trillion in both October and November of last year.
Credit cards are big business in the United States, and the country’s four largest credit card companies have issued a combined U.S. total of 629 million cards, or just under two per open account. Visa, with 323 million, leads the pack while MasterCard claims 191 million, American Express tallies 58 million, and Discover has 57 million.
The card issuer that commands the most loyalty is Discover, according to the latest customer loyalty engagement index published by brand consultancy Brand Keys. Not only that, Discover has been a top performer in the Brand Keys index for 23 years, longer than any other company included in the 2019 study’s 822 companies in 85 categories. Find out which brands command the most customer loyalty in other categories.
In recent years, credit card companies have bought loyalty through a flood of reward offers and cash-back programs. According to a study last August from J.D. Power, the rewards customers receive for every dollar they charge to a card is the “greatest driver of satisfaction with the rewards program.” Satisfied customers are also the least likely to switch to a different card.
What do consumers want? Mostly they want rewards programs that mesh with their spending habits and that make it easy to take advantage of the card’s benefits over a long period of time. One thing Discover does is offer a substantial bonus for new cardholders, dribbled out over a 12-month period. The company wants cardholders to use the card more often in order to earn bigger bonuses. Once cardholders get in the habit of using the card and the rewards program, they are much more likely to stick with Discover.
Either Discover or American Express has been at or near the top in the J.D. Power rankings since they started rating credit cards in 2006. Discover itself attributed its success in the J.D. Power survey to several things: the fact that none of its cards charge an annual fee; U.S.-based customer service; fraud alerts; free FICO credit scores; favorable rules for redeeming rewards; and a customer’s ability to freeze card activity if the card is lost.
Losing customers is easier that attracting new ones. Last August, Discover cancelled six popular perks associated with its cards. Some customers were unfazed by the change, while others were definitely unhappy. Overall, though, the company seems to have weathered the storm. The J.D. Power survey was fielded between September 2017 and August 2018; the Brand Key survey was fielded in December 2018. Discover was number one before it dropped some features of its rewards program and remained number one months later. That’s the power of brand loyalty.