Bolder Thinking Blog

How credit card issuers can help alleviate postal concerns

September 28th, 2020 | Andrew Davidson

To say the US Postal Service has been prominent in the news this year is an understatement. As COVID-19 shut down the country back in March, the service was severely disrupted while postal workers called in sick. More recently, the service has been part of a political firestorm and faces accusations that operational changes have caused a slow-down in the mail in the run-up to the 2020 Presidential Election. Whether or not postal delays are a reality for most communities, there is a sense that the postal service is going through a crisis and a perception that mail could be delayed. With Americans already worried about their health, financial situation, and the state of political discourse in the country, the thought of potential delays to mailed credit card statements is one more thing for consumers to worry about. This presents another chance for banks to encourage customers to switch to paperless statements, and also represents an opportunity to not only waive late fees for those impacted, but to proactively communicate the message and alleviate consumer concerns.

Despite the rising popularity of banking apps, a survey by Consumer Action published last year found that the majority of credit card owners still prefer to receive their credit card statements via mail. When consumers began sheltering in place and shifting their behavior online, banks were quick to promote their digital capabilities and encourage customers to switch to paperless statements. More recently the threat of potential postal delays has provided another opportunity to change consumer behavior. One bank that has been looking to address consumer concerns regarding postal delays by explicitly calling it out is Citi. On September 15th, Citi sent more than 3 million emails with the subject line “Concerned about potential postal delays?” to its credit card customers who already have online access, encouraging them to also switch to paperless statements and emphasizing not only the speed but also the reduced risk of identity theft from lost or stolen mail. To date, other banks have not yet followed Citi’s lead. 

What we think

For many consumers, shifting their financial behavior online is not an option. The COVID-19 crisis exposed the vast disparity in connectivity across the nation. The assumption – and the expectation – is that access to high-speed broadband internet and a computer is near universal in the world’s largest democracy. Unfortunately, the reality is that many communities still don’t have these essential tools and rely on the mail, making the US Postal Service an essential service for millions of Americans. For those relying on receiving their mailed credit card statements in order to make payments, the threat of postal delays puts them at risk of incurring late fees which are at their highest in years, with many issuers charging $40 (up from the cap of $35 when the CARD Act was implemented in 2009). While some banks have waived late fees as part of their COVID-19 assistance programs, there is a new opportunity to offer relief for customers.

Promoting digital tools and paperless statements makes strategic sense, but banks shouldn’t ignore the millions of consumers that rely on the mail. It’s time to give consumers one less thing to worry about.

Andrew Davidson

Andrew Davidson

Andrew Davidson is SVP, Chief Insights Officer for Comperemedia, an expert in consumer and marketing intelligence.