Mystery Shops Show that Promoting Debit is not a Priority for Leading U.S. Banks

Navigator Edition: May 2013
By: Casey Merolla and James Solier

First Annapolis recently completed an assessment of debit card product positioning at 11 leading U.S. banks to gain insight into the promotion of debit in the post-Durbin environment. This assessment was based on a thorough review of bank websites and a series of mystery shops. Our findings show that in the post-Durbin environment, banks are expending less effort promoting debit cards in marketing materials and during the sales process for new accounts.

Six of the 11 banks sampled have limited debit card content in branch or online marketing. Approximately half of all branch marketing materials, such as take-ones and welcome kits, detailed bank products or services but did not discuss debit card usage or benefits. A similar shortage of debit card content was also observed on bank websites.

Figure 1: Assessment Framework
Source: First Annapolis Consulting research and analysis.

Of the banks that actively promoted debit cards, most limited the space used in their marketing materials to present a few bullet points covering core debit benefits. The debit benefits most frequently discussed included:

  • Convenience
  • Zero Liability
  • Control
  • Free ATM Access

Two of the banks in our sample dedicated most of their branch marketing to a description of their personal financial management (PFM) tool. These banks presented the debit card as an integral part of the PFM tool, promoting the debit card as a means of controlling personal finances. This approach re-introduces the debit card as a part of a new and valuable product offering and is an effective way to promoting usage.

Mystery shoppers found that debit holds a similarly low position during the sales process. Of the 16 mystery shopper visits in the study, only six discussed the debit card. In general, bankers focused on selling loan and savings products rather than discussing payment behaviors with the mystery shoppers. Those few bankers who discussed the debit card mostly set expectations around card delivery and activation. Even at banks offering debit rewards (primarily merchant-funded rewards), few bankers made any mention of how the rewards program works or where our shoppers could go for more information.

While most of banks in our sample followed-up with our mystery shopper within a month of opening the account, we found that the content and frequency of these messages were related to the contact method. Only three banks in our sample performed a traditional follow-up call, most of which focused on our shoppers’ branch experience. Those that used email were more likely to send our shoppers a clear, concise message about account set-up and features on a regular basis.

In general, banks were mostly concerned with helping our shoppers set up direct deposit or online bill pay in the follow-up process, potentially to enhance stickiness and generate payment-active accounts. Only three banks in our sample reminded shoppers to activate their debit card, though they did not mention the benefits of debit usage in their messages. While this emphasis on direct deposit and online bill pay is good business practice, the banks in the sample appear to miss the best, and perhaps only, direct opportunity to influence how a customer uses debit.

Debit remains the largest and one of the fastest-growing payment forms, and is still the most profitable deposit-based payment form available. Despite these facts, debit’s position in the deposit account relationship appears to have been downplayed since the passage of the Durbin Amendment. Banks that are not actively promoting debit cards should consider enhancing the positioning of debit in their account opening processes.

For more information, please contact Casey Merolla, Senior Manager,; or James Solier, Consultant, Both specialize in Deposit Access and Prepaid Strategy.

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