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Costco is reaping the benefits of the transition from American Express to Citigroup and Visa

Credit Card Sales
Credit Card Sales

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In its recent earnings report, Costco noted that its payment card acceptance transition is progressing strongly.

The retailer’s portfolio, which was previously cobranded with American Express, was sold to Citigroup and Visa in June. And though there were some hiccups involved with the transition, Costco noted it’s “past that” and reported strong numbers.

The new card is “beating initial expectations” regarding conversion, new sign-ups, and overall use.

  • Most cardholders have transferred their accounts. Of the approximately 11.4 million Amex Costco cards and 7.5 million accounts, nearly 85% of the accounts transferred over have been activated with Costco. That’s about the same amount that were active prior to the transition, which indicates that existing cardholders are receptive to the new card program.

  • And the new card continues to grow, which could be a result of the strong rewards program. Since the shift in June, Costco said that 1.1 million members have applied for the new card and 730,000 accounts have been activated. For context, Citi noted that three-and-a-half weeks in, the new card had added 337,000 new accounts, so the Costco numbers mark somewhat slowing, but still strong, growth. This is a strong interest indicator for the new card specifically, especially because Costco now accepts any Visa-branded card, and it’s likely the majority of Costco customers already have one in their wallet. The card’s strong rewards offerings, which include better cash-back options for Costco purchases and have improved by 40-50% overall, could be driving customers to the product.

  • It’s likely that spending is high. Costco didn’t provide specific spending numbers, only noting that its gross margin year-over-year (YoY) increased. But in Citi’s earnings call, held three weeks into the card transition, the product saw $5.7 billion in purchases made on Citi Costco cards, slightly beating the estimated $5.4 billion spend that would have been seen on the Amex card. Assuming that trend has continued, it’s likely the product is performing strongly.

The strong performance reported by Costco could be a needed boost for Citigroup. The strong performance is good news for Costco, because the retailer’s somewhat slowing sales could have been exacerbated if transition process frustration drove customers away from the retailer.

But ongoing usage and volume growth will be most beneficial to Citi, which has already seen modest gains in its North American “credit cards” segment as a result of the acquisition of the Costco portfolio, which accounted for $80 billion in 2015. If Costco continues to be a steady customer acquisition channel and volume source, Citi could further establish separation as the third largest US card issuer in 2016.

Costco's growth in this area is just one piece of the larger payments ecosystem, which includes card issuers, merchants, gateways, vendors, and more.

Evan Bakker and John Heggestuen, analysts at BI Intelligence, have compiled a detailed report on the payments ecosystem that drills into the industry to explain how a broad range of transactions are processed, including prepaid and store cards, as well as revealing which types of companies are in the best and worst position to capitalize on the latest industry trends.

Here are some key takeaways from the report:

  • 2016 will be a watershed year for the payments industry. Payments companies are improving security, expanding their mobile offerings, and building commerce capabilities that will give consumers a more compelling reason to make purchases using digital devices.

  • Payments is an extremely complex industry. To understand the next big digital opportunity lies, it's critical to understand how the traditional credit- and debit-processing chain works and what roles acquirers, processors, issuing banks, card networks, independent sales organizations, gateways, and software and hardware providers play.

  • Alternative technologies could disrupt the processing ecosystem. Devices ranging from refrigerators to smartwatches now feature payment capabilities, which will spur changes in consumer payment behaviors. Likewise, blockchain technology, the protocol that underlies Bitcoin, could one day change how consumer card payments are verified.

In full, the report:

  • Uncovers the key themes and trends affecting the payments industry in 2016 and beyond.

  • Gives a detailed description of the stakeholders involved in a payment transaction, along with hardware and software providers.

  • Offers diagrams and infographics explaining how card transactions are processed and which players are involved in each step.

  • Provides charts on our latest forecasts, key company growth, survey results, and more.

  • Analyzes the alternative technologies, including blockchain, which could further disrupt the ecosystem.

To get your copy of this invaluable guide, choose one of these options:

  1. Subscribe to an ALL-ACCESS Membership with BI Intelligence and gain immediate access to this report AND over 100 other expertly researched deep-dive reports, subscriptions to all of our daily newsletters, and much more. >> START A MEMBERSHIP

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The choice is yours. But however you decide to acquire this report, you’ve given yourself a powerful advantage in your understanding of the payments ecosystem.

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