The Washington Post

Capital One pushes to expand private-label, co-branded credit card businesses

Capital One is pushing to expand its private-label and co-branded credit card businesses as it aims to reach more of a kind of customer it considers highly valuable: Those who make a large number of transactions but don’t carry a balance each month.

“The losses tend to be lower. They’re good customers to have,” said Kathleen Pierce-Gilmore, managing vice president of card partnerships at Capital One. “In general, they tend to be more loyal.

And these customers, analysts say, are drawn to the rewards programs that are typically rolled up in a co-branded card.

In October, the McLean-based finance giant announced a new co-branded card with General Motors, its latest offering in this market. The card comes with no fees and allows customers to earn rewards that can be put toward the purchase of a GM vehicle. There are no limits and no expiration date for the rewards. This card joins existing offerings from these two companies, which have shared co-branded products since 2011 when Capital One purchased HSBC’s credit card unit for $2.5 billion.

Analysts say the focus on this type of customer could create advantages for Capital One.

“You have very low credit losses in that kind of portfolio,” said David Hilder, senior equity research analyst at Drexel Hamilton. “You don’t get a lot of interest income, but there’s a way to make the economics work.”

In a recent conference call with investors, Capital One chief executive Richard D. Fairbank said that his firm had both “the capacity and the desire” to make more of these kinds of deals with retailers.

“We are absolutely focused on, in fact, growing this business,” Fairbank said during the call. “And as we’ve always said, this is an attractive business. It’s not about just who can be the biggest, but it’s about selectively getting the best, the high-quality partners who are motivated to really build the franchise with a partnership deal and a contract that, in fact, can allow a win-win for both parties.”

That focus on mutually beneficial partnerships is what the company said prompted its decision earlier this year to sell its portfolio of Best Buy credit cards to Citibank for about $7 billion. Pierce-Gilmore said they no longer saw a strong value proposition in that particular arrangement, even as they continue to believe such relationships will be an area of growth going forward.

In the era of big data, private-label and co-branded partnerships may have another upside for businesses.

“As we think about the future of payments, merchants want to get closer to their customers,” said Sanjay Sakhrani, a banking analyst with Keefe, Bruyette & Woods. “One way to do that is with private label.”

For example, Sakhrani said these cards can be a way to see what a customer is typically spending money on and to provide them customized offers based on that information.

Sarah Halzack is The Washington Post's national retail reporter. She has previously covered the local job market and the business of talent and hiring. She has also served as a Web producer for business and economic news.
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