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Old 06-07-11, 13:45   #1
 
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Green Arrow Banks' Billion-Dollar Idea: Sell Your Shopping Data

By Blake Ellis July 6, 2011: 6:00 AM ET


Banks could make nearly $2 billion by 2015 from selling your shopping data.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Banks have found a new revenue stream -- and this time, it doesn't involve hitting you up with a new fee.
Many of the nation's leading banks and card issuers, including Wells Fargo (WFC, Fortune 500), Citi (C, Fortune 500), USAA, Sovereign Bank and Discover (DFS, Fortune 500), are selling information about consumers' shopping habits -- how much they spend, where they shop and what they buy -- to retailers, which are using the data to offer targeted discounts via text, email and online bank statements. Each time a consumer cashes in on one of those deals, the retailer pays the bank a nice commission.

At a time when government regulation is forcing banks to hike fees and eliminate consumers perks, selling consumers' shopping data is an easy way to not only generate a decent chunk of revenue but also to drum up some much-needed customer loyalty.
Aite Group, an independent Boston-based research firm specializing in financial services, forecasts that these merchant-funded incentives will drive $1.7 billion in annual revenue for card issuers by 2015.

Your bank is profiling you!

Many of the nation's largest banks have already rolled out these incentive programs, said Tom Beecher, CEO of Cartera Commerce, which works with seven out of 20 of the nation's biggest banks, including Citi and Wells Fargo, and helps retailers target customers with relevant deals based on their shopping patterns.
Cardlytics, which provides similar services for 125 banks and a network of retailers, says merchants pay banks an average fee of 10% to 15% of the purchase price of a product each time a customer uses a discount that's generated from the bank's data. Typically, the bank takes a 25% cut of that fee and pays an intermediary, like Cardlytics, the rest. So if a customer buys a $1,000 couch, the merchant pays a fee of up to $150 to the bank and the bank walks away with $37.50.

'Better than Groupon'?

While the new incentive programs may have been created to benefit the banks, Madeline Aufseeser, senior analyst at Aite Group, said the targeted deals could actually end up benefiting consumers as well.
"It's better than Groupon and LivingSocial, because with those types of offers, if I'm a man, I could be getting offers to go the beauty shop or something not at all relevant to me," said Aufseeser. "Consumers are now going to see offers they're actually interested in because they'll be based on spending behavior."
Here's how it works: Say you use your Citi-issued debit card to buy a pair of shoes at Nordstrom, and then Citi sells that information to a series of retailers. As a result, you receive a coupon from Macy's for a 20% discount on shoes at its store. The coupon is delivered by Citi, however, not from Macy's.
To redeem the coupon, you must respond by text, e-mail or by checking off a box next to the offer on your online bank statement. Once you go into Macy's to buy the shoes, Citi will retroactively credit your account for the 20% discount.Some banks, however, only let you cash in your discounts via their online portals.
Sounds easy enough, but shoppers should keep in mind that the market for merchant-funded rewards programs is still young. And, like any new program, there are still plenty of kinks to get worked out.
Take, for example, the retroactively applied credit these programs issue. Merchants could decide to add fine print to their offers that exclude certain brands or add purchase conditions so that consumers think they'll be getting a discount but discover the credit was never applied, explained Odysseas Papadimitriou, CEO of CardHub.com.
"There's a risk that you might not get what you're hoping to get -- you're leaving the store and you don't know how much you were actually charged for something," he said. "Then if you don't see it on your credit card statement, what do you do? Call your bank? Call the intermediary company? Or call the merchant? If they start using fine print, the whole thing's just going to be a big mess."
The privacy question
And, of course, there's also the issue of privacy. Aite Group estimates that more than 460 million cardholders will be enrolled in the programs. (In most of cases, consumers are automatically enrolled in the merchant incentive programs, but they do have the right to opt out -- as required by bank regulations.)
The banks and intermediary companies, like Cartera and Cardlytics, claim that personally identifying information like your name, bank account number and Social Security number aren't disclosed when they provide your data to a merchant. Instead, an anonymous numeric code is assigned to each customer that only the bank has access to. Because the codes are anonymous and the merchants and intermediary companies don't have access to a customer's online account login credentials, the system is just as secure as your online bank account, said Aufseeser.
Merchants don't see your individual shopping information either, the banks and intermediary companies say. They go to companies like Cartera, describe the kind of customer they want to target (for example, someone who spends more than $300 a month on clothing at Nordstrom). Cartera then finds a customer meeting that criteria, passes the match along to the bank using their code and the bank then alerts the customer of the personalized offer.
So far, consumers seem to be taking to the deals. Cardlytics said that 58% of customers who receive the offers they generate redeem at least one. And only 2% of customers have chosen to opt out.
You can expect more deals to be coming to your online statements or inbox soon: Visa (V, Fortune 500) is working with more than 14 major card issuers -- including U.S. Bank (USB, Fortune 500), Barclay (BCS), PNC (PNC, Fortune 500) and TD Bank (TD) -- to launch a similar program in the fall. And several other major banks are planning to roll out similar programs in the upcoming year, said Beecher.
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