The personal touch

​​Customized banking cards don’t just look great – they’re bringing real business benefits to the financial sector, too
[The Review, Issue 3 2013]


What have a three-week-old baby, a dalmatian and the Grand Canyon got in common? This isn’t the precursor to a bad joke, but rather evidence of a trend that is rapidly gathering pace in the financial services industry.

Family portraits, pets and scenic shots are appearing in increasing numbers on credit and debit cards. Bank customers around the world are embracing the opportunity to personalize their once-generic traditional cash cards.

About 243,000 of our 392,205 debit accounts have some type of picture on their card,” says James Dickson, Picture Perfect Project Manager at America First Credit Union. “It has exceeded our expectations completely. On the day we introduced the system, people had already started uploading images before we had even rolled out the links to all of our web servers.

America First’s Picture Perfect card customization service launched in 2005 and, although the Utah-headquartered credit union didn’t set any specific targets for the service at its inception, its growth has surprised them ever since.

We had no concrete aims for Picture Perfect at the time of release,” Dickson says. “We were just keen to create a media buzz in the market for a service that was both innovative and ‘cool’ and have it be associated with America First and its various Visa products.”

Business Boot

But the evidence gathered since then suggests that Picture Perfect has real business benefits, with service users making more card transactions and displaying higher balances on accounts.

America First’s Picture Perfect debit card users average about 20 transactions per month, while non-Picture Perfect debit card users average about 12 transactions in the same period. Credit card customers with a Picture Perfect card average just over 10 transactions per month, whereas non-Picture Perfect credit card users average only 6.5 transactions in that time.

This rise in transaction volumes with a customized card is mirrored in account balances, with the average credit card balance of a personalized-card user at America First a little over US$200 higher than that of a non-Picture Perfect card holder.

Dickson believes that these statistics can be attributed to the fact that customers develop an emotional attachment to their personalized card. This is strengthened by it being a good talking point when making a purchase.

The whole point is to drive usage,” he says. “There is a lot of competition out there, so giving our members the ability to customize their own card is a way to get the America First card at the front of their wallet. So, when customers hand it to a cashier, they are asked ‘Are those your kids?’ or ‘Is that your car?’.”

A strong customer connection to the card fuels loyalty to the issuer, which can then be converted into more business. “Picture Perfect has given us a great boost in creating a better relationship with our members,” Dickson says. “Customization is a great way to tie an individual to the credit union – not just in a business way, but in an emotional way.”

Security to share

A personalized banking card also has security benefits. The new Visa card design standards involve switching the Visa dove hologram from the front of the card to the back, with the hologram integrated into the magnetic stripe. This will make card counterfeiting more difficult, protecting the user’s identity.

America First has recently taken steps to expand its card customization service to enable members to share an image of their personalized card safely online. “Once a member receives an email saying their image has been approved, they are able to click on a link which allows them to post a picture of their card to their Facebook timeline, upload it to Twitter, or pin it to their wall on Pinterest,” Dickson says.

Images are the most popular thing to share on social media. Thanks to a dummy card number and a generic nametag that ensure security is not compromised, the powerful viral marketing effects can take place.

Initial signs look good. “In the two or three weeks after this launched, we’ve already had a couple of hundred posts,” Dickson says.It looks like many more people will be appreciating the personal touch in years to come.