CardsFTW #39: Conference Season

Plus, new cards from fintech issuers and upcoming BofA changes.

This week more than 7,000 payments and fintech people will descend on Las Vegas for Money20/20. I’ve been almost going every year (except last year, of course!)

If you’re there, let’s meet up! Apto is hosting a lunch on Monday (today), or we have a kiosk I’ll be at on the Exhibit Hall floor in the Product Innovation Zone. Please stop by and say hello.

Next up will be CardCon 2021, produced by my friend Jason Steele. They have an in-person and virtual conference option, and I recommend you attend (I’m going virtual). There are many great speakers, including folks from some of the cards we’ve highlighted in the past year, such as M1, Nesswell, BlockFi, and Status Money, among many other speakers and moderators. Use code “CardsFTW” for a discount.

Fintech Cards

We continue to see an acceleration in the number of new credit card products for consumers offered by fintech brands. Cardless, a fintech partnered with First Electronic Bank, is going after the traditional bank co-brand businesses and building out a strong presence in sports teams.

Following on to their previous cards with teams like the Cleveland Cavaliers, Manchester United, and Miami Marlins, Cardless announced the launch of a Boston Celtics card.

Paceline, a fitness health startup, launched its first credit card product. The Paceline card is built on the Railsbank credit cards-as-a-service platform and issued by open banking leader Evolve Bank & Trust (who issues the BlockFi card, among others). Railsbank has a growing list of fintech brands building cards, and as they bring their first card to the public market, we can expect to see many more new card announcements.

Paceline has been building its audience over the past two years with an Apple Watch connected fitness rewards program. Users earn discounts and cashback offers at health brands for their workouts. The new card takes an innovative approach to rewards tying your offline, physical activities (tracked by a device) to your rewards. Consumers can earn up to 3% cashback on health and wellness purchases, but only when consumers have a Paceline Streak, otherwise it’s 1.5%. You need to exercise a minimum amount weekly to earn a Streak.

Instead of a signup bonus of points or cash, you can earn an Apple Watch Series 7 (in the form of $429 weekly statement credits back), but only if you spend more than $500 per statement cycle and achieve your Paceline goals (whatever those are, I’m not clear).

The card carries a $120 annual fee.

I think this is going to be a tough sell at this annual fee. The annual fee range is in awkward space; I know from my Grand Reserve card’s $149 fee. Consumers look at fees under $100 per year as one group. Cards with annual fees of more than $100 are often grouped with very expensive cards (e.g. more than $300), even though the comparison isn’t fair. Many consumers for Grand Reserve made direct comparisons to their American Express Plaintum card althoug the annual fees differ by $500 per year.

The Paceline card will not have the benefits that align with card carrying a very high annual, but I think consumers will compare the cards as a single group. Paceline raised $30MM earlier this year, so they should be able to experiment and find the right offering.

X1 Card, which has been in development for the last couple of years, also announced their public launch. The X1 card is squarely going after millennial users of Chase Sapphire Reserve. In contrast to Paceline, the X1 team has built a lot of their card services directly versus using a credit card program manager.

The card earns 2x points on every $1 spent, 3x points on every $1 spent for the year if you spend $15K+ on the card in that year, and 4x points on every $1 spent for a month for every friend you refer. There is no annual fee. The points are worth $0.01, although, at first review from the outside, it appears they may only be redeemable for gift cards, not cash, which saves a lot of cost for the issuer.

If you are a high spender and put $15,000 per year on the card and can earn an effective 3% cash back, this would definitely be a leading card. I’m not sure how the economics would work for X1 in this case. X1 also promises higher than average credit lines and the card carries reasonable APRs. Plus, as they love to point out, it weighs 17g which is more than most metal cards (although not the heaviest, if you care about that).

Venmo has been working very hard to drive the adoption of its credit card product issued by Synchrony. When it launched, I noted that that $10,000 cap on annual spending in bonus categories looked very limiting. That cap is gone, according to deal blog Doctor of Credit. Cap removal makes the card much more appealing. I’m overdue for a card review, and I’ll be taking a closer look personally.

Bank of America Changes

I am a big fan of Bank of America’s customer loyalty rewards program. Users who have significant deposits earn additional credit card rewards, receive fee waivers, and access loan rate discounts, which grow as their balances grow. The current tiers are at $20,000, $50,000, and $100,000 in assets (including investments held at Merrill Lynch). According to a new footnote on their rewards page, there is also a Wealth Management tier, which is changing on November 12. I’m hoping we’ll see even more exciting credit card rewards.

These changes appear tied to a rumored new Bank of America Infinite Visa card (the same tier as the Chase Sapphire Reserve). Rumor has it this will carry a similar $550 fee and earn 1.5-2x on broad categories, plus airline credits and the like. I’ll sure be follow-up on this in the coming weeks.

ReadyLink Goes Debit

Visa ReadyLink is a cash load network for Visa cards. Traditionally it has enabled consumers to add cash to a prepaid reloadable debit card by depositing cash at a retail location like 7-Eleven (and paying a fee to the retailer). In a move that had me wondering why this wasn’t already true, Visa announced ReadyLink can now be used with traditional debit cards in addition to prepaid cards. More and more, the distinction between prepaid (such as Green Dot and NetSpend) and neobanking debit (like Chime) has blurred. The debit card functionality is a welcome addition.

Amex Business Platinum

Over on the business side, American Express announced a slew of new features and benefits for its very popular business Platinum card. Features include a new earning structure of 1.5 Membership Rewards points per dollar in critical categories like electronics and cloud computing, construction supplies, and shipping, plus 1.5x on large purchases of $5,000 per year. Like the consumer cards, this card now includes credits against particular retail spending such as $400 at Dell, $360 at Indeed, $150 at Adobe, and $120 at wireless providers.

Many travel benefits include airport lounge access, a $179 statement credit for CLEAR, a $200 airline fee credit, and a private jet discount (and more). The card will now carry a $695 annual fee, demonstrating the acceleration of the fee-raising wars (the opposite of what cardholders want to see).

CardsFTW

Thanks for reading CardsFTW, a weekly-ish newsletter about all things debit and credit. CardsFTW is written and curated by Matthew Goldman, VP, Sales & Marketing at Apto Payments. If you’re looking for insights into everyday payments beyond deal blogs, please subscribe for free at cardsftw.substack.com. If you enjoyed this, please share it with a friend! Follow me on Twitter @magoldman.

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