Banks Want 'Responsible' Customers, but Rewards Don't Show It

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — With bank rewards programs, customers increasingly feel they're getting less bang for their buck — and they want banks to do something about it.

In Bank of America's most recent Preferred Rewards Consumer Study, 79% of consumers say they want rewards programs to help their money go further, whereas just 20% say they want "fancy" rewards/benefits to use toward a special one-time experience or purchase.

Overwhelmingly, consumers say they want rewards for the financial steps they are already taking — in particular, those that can be deemed as "responsible" actions," says Bank of America in a Thursday press release. "That includes depositing to a savings account; making mortgage payments on time; depositing to a retirement account; using a bank website to do banking activities online; having more than one account with a bank; maintaining a minimum balance in a primary account."

Half of survey respondents say they are "leaving money on the table" by not being rewarded for "responsible" banking behavior — a characteristic customers say banks push all the time. "Americans want rewards that recognize them for their everyday banking actions, including daily spending, as well as activities they consider more responsible investment behaviors, such as investing for retirement," says Aron Levine, head of preferred banking at Merrill Edge, a division of Bank of America. "However, the data shows that most people have to shop around for the right rewards and services as they seek for opportunities to grow their nest eggs."

Better rewards could help banks compete with other financials services reward deals. According to a study by First Data, 76% of consumers indicated they were members of credit card rewards programs, compared with 27% who are members in debit card rewards programs, leaving just 11% under "other banking." The same study notes that "cash back" is the favorite rewards perk from 56% of banking consumers, while the "ability to select rewards" the most sought feature linked to banking rewards programs.

Among all rewards card holders, one-third or more surveyed indicated some level of frustration with what the programs gave them.

The end game for banking customers is fatter account balances for everyday banking activities, and the more rewards option in that vein, the better.

"Consumers are seeking practical benefits from rewards programs," Levine says. "At the same time, our research is clear that these consumers do not want to choose just one type of benefit; they are looking at the full spectrum of financial activity and want their banking partners to do the same."

— By Brian O'Connell for MainStreet

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