30 Jul Creating An Eco Rewards Card – True Value Creation
July 30, 2020
To: American Express, Bank of America, Barclays, Capital One, Citi, Discover, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, U.S. Bank, and Wells Fargo
From: SEAL Awards Impact Team (“SEAL Impact”)
Re: Creating An Eco Rewards Card – True Value Creation – Legacy-Defining, Generational Corporate Opportunity To Grow Profits While Transforming Funding For Environmental Causes
We have identified and vetted the idea of creating an environmentally-focused rewards card that is uniquely profitable AND socially useful. Rather than pursuing this idea commercially ourselves, we are “open sourcing” our business case to ensure that the right institution fully and rapidly capitalizes on this opportunity.MEMO (PDF 5MB)
The above button provides a printable PDF copy of this business case launch memo.CARD SIGN UP
The above button allows interested consumers to pre-register for early access to the future Eco Rewards card.
- Concept of Eco Rewards Card – a social purpose alternative to traditional rewards cards
- Total rewards rate of 1.20%, with 0.60% in cashback to user
- The other 0.60% automatically donated to sustainable nonprofit consortium
- Our primary research (n = 3,003) supports a compelling business case for card sponsor
- Base Case: ~$116 billion purchase volume + 25 million users for 1st mover, generates ~$1.1 billion of pre-tax profit while creating ~$700 million of annual donations
- 54% sign-up rate (22% “very likely” + 32% “likely”)
- 96% of likely sign-ups would refer, cuts time to achieve scale by 23%-48%
- Enthusiasm translates into high top of wallet share (#1 card for 62% of very likely)
- Takes share across brands (Capital One, Chase, Discover) and card types (cash, travel)
- Most significant sign-up drivers are concern for the environment and the belief that this card will make a positive impact on our planet; not sign-up bonuses
- Potential for above average card profitability, especially in terms of marketing cost
- Donation pool created would have substantial impact on planet
- Eco Rewards donation pool would represent world’s largest environmental charity, with a net present value in excess of Jeff Bezos’ $10.0 billion climate fund
- ESG and issuer PR lift: ~$700 million annual donations publicly attributed to issuer
- Our request:
- Engage in due diligence with our research data and consumer interview panels
- Publicly announce your decision of whether or not to pursue an Eco Rewards-type product by Q1 2021 earnings calls
OUR RESEARCH PROCESS
SEAL Impact sourced 3,003 quantitative survey respondents using paid channels (n = 1,500 US 18+, via Pollfish platform) and organic methods (email, social media; yielded a global sample size of 1,885, of which 1,503 were US 18+).
A sample of the 22-question Eco Rewards Consumer Survey can be found here.
The SEAL Impact team also conducted 173 one-to-one verbal consumer interviews to gather qualitative insights on how the Eco Rewards card might be perceived (“pull quotes” can be found in Appendix).
Importantly, over 500 quantitative survey respondents and a meaningful percentage of our one-to-one verbal interviewees indicated a willingness to be contacted by your institutions as part of your due diligence process.
While these projections likely appear ambitious at first glance, we believe they contain elements of conservatism and are achievable based on the unique positioning of the Eco Rewards card.
Areas of conservatism:
- The % of the US population concerned about climate change is potentially underestimated and Base Case projections modeled without considering any growth
- Both Cases applied “haircuts” to conversion rate of survey sign-up interest to actual use
- Our survey described Eco Rewards with a 1.20% total rewards rate (a 10% discount to current market averages):
- 1.35% median travel rewards rate per SEAL analysis of The Points Guy
- 1.33% average rewards rate for Discover per 2019 10-K
- 1.35% median cashback rewards rate per SEAL analysis of 12 popular cashback cards (ranging from Discover it Student up to Citi Double Cash)
- Potential upside to annual spend per card
- Modeled at $6,526 per American Bankers Association (ABA) Q4 2019 “Credit Market Monitor”
- Any successful uptake of the Eco Rewards Card among higher purchasing volume users – like American Express, whose average customer spends $21,515 annually – would increase this key projection driver
ECO REWARDS VS. TRADITIONAL CARD THESIS SUMMARY
FIRST MOVER ADVANTAGE
We believe that there are substantial advantages available for the category-creating first mover::
- Achieve outsized market share from high referral rate & associated organic growth
- 95%+ of “very likely” and “likely” sign-ups indicated they would refer the Eco Rewards card
- Benefit from the opportunity to craft distinct and captivating positioning. With the right institutional backing, Eco Rewards can become a noun-to-verb-like brand (e.g. Uber) that is synonymous with “helping the environment with every swipe”
- Compared to introducing another commodity-like cashback card, an Eco Rewards card has a clear link to a pressing societal issue that provides a clear rationale to make this a “top of wallet” card.
- Given the level of climate concern among younger generations, Eco Rewards represents an opportunity to secure long-lasting customer relationships – even across other product lines like mortgages and wealth management – in those demographics. And those relationships would be established with your “best foot forward” given that the first mover on Eco Rewards will have proven exceptional leadership on environmental solutions.
- The purpose-centered rewards category is a “Blue Ocean” strategy, where a “blue ocean strategic move can create brand equity that lasts for decades,” – which, in our opinion, represents a Nike/Jordan or Apple/iPhone type of opportunity for credit cards.
- Given likely adopters’ hesitancy to trust financial institutions, we believe that the first mover and true pioneering “category creator” in sustainable rewards will enjoy strong customer retention rates and a durable brand advantage over “me too” market entrants.
As you are likely aware, there is a small existing category of affinity charity cards (e.g. Bank of America’s Worldwide Wildlife Fund card, Fifth Third’s Stand Up To Cancer card). We discuss later in this memo why there are fundamental differences between Eco Rewards and those affinity charity cards – namely awareness (limited), donation rates (lower), and charity partners (limited to a single one) – and should not dissuade your institutions from pursuing this opportunity.
LARGE + GROWING ADDRESSABLE MARKET OF CLIMATE CONCERNED
Even prior to COVID-19, the very mature and competitive U.S. credit card market was experiencing growing rewards costs and new account volume declines for 8 consecutive quarters (per ABA).
Unique obstacles facing the airline, hotel, and travel-linked premium card categories present further challenges for many card issuers, such as depressed volume for next ~2-3 years due to COVID-19 with longer-term headwinds from Zoom-type remote collaboration and a growing stigma of air travel due to its environmental costs.
By contrast, the Eco Rewards card has an addressable market of 168 million (66% of U.S. population), which has grown by 17 points over the past decade, as per the flagship Yale & George Mason Universities longitudinal study “Climate Change In The American Mind.”
SEAL Impact estimates that the percent concerned about climate change could grow from 66% to 80% of the US 18+ population, adding an additional 50 million potential card holders to Eco Rewards total addressable market (TAM). As a point of reference, public opinions on same sex marriage changed by 30 points in only 15 years.
Moreover, certain age and ethnic demographics will create a favorable tailwind for the Eco Rewards card over the next decade.
Younger generations of Americans strongly believe that working together is the key to saving the environment; they are more confident in their collective efficacy than older Americans, especially in taking actions such as engaging in climate activism and urging elected officials and business leaders to take action.
We would like to note that the U.S. actual population over 56 is ~38%, while the Yale/George Mason sample is 49% over 56 (11 points overweight). Given higher levels of concern among younger generations, this implies that the level of climate concern (66% of population) in the Yale/George Mason study is likely too low to represent actual U.S. climate concern.
We also note that our Pollfish sample (n=1,500; sourced 100% independent of SEAL network) showed an 83% level of climate concern (43% “very worried” + 40% “somewhat worried”).
The uniqueness of the Eco Rewards card creates a powerful marketing flywheel*:
- Referrals: 95%+ referral rate for “likely” and “very likely” sign-ups.
- Aligned Charities: Given the alignment of our missions and the financial incentives, we expect many environmental nonprofits to help drive card sign-ups.
- Earned Media: We expect the Eco Rewards card to generate more media coverage than a traditional rewards card, due to a combination of its strong referral rate, clear link to urgent environmental issues, and novelty.
- Social Buzz + Value Signaling: Building on passionate early adopter referrals and positive press coverage, Eco Rewards would likely benefit from “buzz” on social media. While not a primary driver of card adoption (#4 factor in our survey), Eco Rewards would also become a means of value signalling (or pejoratively “virtue signalling”) environmental responsibility.
- Distinct + Leading Brand: The Eco Rewards card could ultimately become a uniquely meaningful, noun-as-verb brand (like GoFundMe or Uber) that is synonymous with “helping the environment with every swipe” and consumer environmental responsibility. Moreover, given early adopters’ likely hesitancy to trust financial institutions (discussed later), we believe the first mover will be the true pioneer in sustainable rewards, securing a durable brand advantage compared to “me too” market entrants.
*All phases of this marketing flywheel will operate in a growing population of citizens concerned about climate change.
Personas (and even stereotypes) can help “game out” Eco Rewards’ path to success. Selected commentary:
- Early Adopters – The combination of aligned charities and referrals from a base of stereotypically environmentalist group members (such as Tesla drivers, solar panel owners, environmental charity donors, and members of REI) can create a quick breakout for Eco Rewards.
- Market sizing: 60.5 million US consumers ages 18-75 (26% of population) are very concerned about climate change
- Early Majority – In the graphic above, we use the co-workers and members of a social group (e.g. a yoga practitioner) to show 1st-level referral examples. We also note that research shows minorities and lower income groups are underestimated in terms of climate concern – this is not just a “Tesla drivers in Boulder, Colorado” market.
- Market sizing: Additional 93.1 million US consumers age 18-75 (additional 40% of population) “concerned” about climate change
- Late Majority – In this stage, “social buzz” and earned media pay off; some will adopt because recommended by many family members and friends; others will see the card as trendy (e.g. proud to use on a date or while shopping). Market share amongst older demographics will increase as well.
We can also use the parent demographic below to highlight the benefit of Eco Rewards’ clarity of purpose environmental mission, relative to an all-encompassing (lack of focus with little money generated for each cause) charity card. Since many parents care about how climate change will affect their children’s lives, signing up for this card will be very compelling, as evidenced by a +5% sign-up rate for parents versus non-parents.
POWER OF EXCEPTIONAL REFERRAL RATE: DEEPENS FIRST MOVER ADVANTAGE
Our consumer survey (n = 3,003) showed a 95%+ referral rate for “likely” and “very likely” sign-ups. Even 80% of those “neutral” on signing-up showed an interest in referring the card – this “neutral” datapoint alone speaks to the novelty, virality, and earned media upside for Eco Rewards among a wider demographic than most credit cards in general.
We estimate this referral rate can accelerate Eco Rewards’ ability to achieve initial scale ($100 billion purchasing volume) by ~28%-43%. These referrals would also occur at lower customer acquisition costs than other marketing channels (like affiliate partnerships and digital advertising).
ECO REWARDS = HIGHER PROFITABILITY
We also believe the Eco Rewards card will achieve higher returns on capital than a traditional rewards card, especially any new traditional rewards-type card that will need to compete on “price” (higher rewards rates, extra cardholder benefits, etc.).
Most aspects of the above graphic are obvious to your institutions. We present selected commentary for novel factors of the Eco Rewards Card:
- Marketing Efficiency:
- Lower Sign-Up Bonus: 39% of “very likely” + “likely” sign-ups would require a lower or even no sign-up bonus compared to a traditional card. Likely adopters’ strong focus on meaningful social change lowers the cost of your promotional offer.
- Minimal Digital Ad Competition: Since the dominant digital advertising platforms (like Facebook and Google) are priced by auction, having less competition should lead to lower ad costs. Our very simple analysis of Google search ad pricing (e.g. for charity card keywords instead of travel rewards keywords) suggests cost per click rates could be ~80% lower with Eco Rewards-related keywords.
- Non-Profit Partnerships: Given their alignment with Eco Reward’s mission and their need for ancillary income, pay-for-performance arrangements (akin to an affiliate marketing model; ex: BofA currently pays WWF $3 per signup) could be established
- Better Customer Base: avoids lower profit “churners” and maximizers. By definition, an Eco Rewards card holder does not want to maximize their financial rewards (survey results/sign-up rates generated using below-market rewards rate of 1.20%).
- Lower Cost Per Point + Program Design:
- Partners for co-branded traditional rewards cards – like leading airlines, hotels, and retailers – have negotiated with issuers via relevant leverage. Since the rewards pool for Eco Rewards is simply allocated between cashback and charitable donations, there are no bargaining power factors at play.
- Uniquely, the Eco Rewards card could choose to lower its cost per point by investing portions of its donation pool into various sustainable assets (like wind and solar). Using a 7.7% investment yield (based on Hannon Armstrong [NYSE:HASI] Q1 2020 returns) and a 15% allocation to sustainable infrastructure, Eco Rewards could lower its rewards costs a further 110 basis points
- Using your institution’s program design expertise, rewards costs could be further lowered using cost-effective, non-economic user incentives (e.g. a 100 tree-planting program).
- Cross-Selling Other Products: Examples include but are not limited to mortgages, bank accounts, and wealth management.
CARDHOLDER MOTIVATIONS: HOW IS THIS POSSIBLE?
Guilt about climate change is a very poor motivator. In fact, emotions like guilt and shame mostly lead to complete inaction. However, many channels to act on climate change – whether by being an activist, working for a nonprofit, or investing a sizable pool of wealth into ESG funds – are neither broadly accessible nor likely for most citizens.
“Not everyone can work for Greenpeace or become the next Greta Thunberg, but anyone can use a sustainable rewards card.”
By using Eco Rewards, consumers are able to turn their guilt into accountability by creating positive change for the planet with every swipe.
The essential questions here remain: “Would people really choose to ‘give up’ half of their rewards? And why?”
Conceptually, the act of using Eco Rewards addresses different psychological needs: simply, Eco Rewards allows you to feel you are part of the solution.
This Maslow-based framework is born out in our consumer survey (n = 3,003) results:
1. Your level of concern about climate change is a very strong predictor of card interest.
2. Feeling you were making a positive difference on the environment was the most cited driver of sign-ups.
3. Furthermore, your degree of belief that using the Eco Rewards Card will positively help has a strong predictive value on sign-up possibility.
The lack of meaningful charitable cards today likely results from the assumption that consumers would not give away a meaningful amount of their rewards.
ECO REWARDS ROSETTA STONE: Our survey data and correlation analysis help illustrate that a higher donation amount actually creates a higher purpose + greater belief in the impact of using the card, thereby generating higher consumer interest and top of wallet usage.
This relationship also explains why existing charity cards with low donation rates have failed to scale:
We also speculate that a related “nobody’s fool” dynamic explains why Eco Rewards’ “half donation, half cashback” model works:
- Very low donation rates feel pointless and/or inauthentic
- But giving up 100% of your rewards can feel foolish, especially when you know some people are receiving up to 2.0% cashback on their cards
- Therefore, a 50/50 split feels “just right,” providing an ideal balance between self- and social-interest: “Cashback and Impact”
Discussed more fully in our Appendix, the behavioral economics principles of endowment effect, automatic nudges, and inertia all contribute to making it easier to “give up” rewards than you might expect.
TRANSFORMATIVE SOCIAL IMPACT
The donation pool created by Eco Rewards would:
- Create the world’s largest environmentally-focused charitable endowment
- Grow the total funding pool for the environment by roughly 20%
- Act as a much-needed source of funding for cutting-edge research
- Provide a more stable and more diversified funding pool compared to traditional charitable donation sources that are dependent on stock market values and the whims of mega-donors
In terms of your legacies as corporate leaders, Eco Rewards provides an opportunity to create a donation pool far greater than Jeff Bezos’ recently announced $10 billion climate fund.
Eco Rewards is the right card. For the right moment. For the right cause.
It only needs the right institution.
As executives and board members, do you want to be remembered as leaders on the most existential issue of our time and leave a legacy that lasts for many decades to come?
OUR REQUEST + NEXT STEPS
We ask that each institution addressed in this memorandum:
- Engage in due diligence with our research data and consumer interview panels
- Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for data access
- Note: additional analysis and graphs of our survey results are presented in Appendix
- Publicly announce your decision whether or not to pursue an Eco Rewards-type product by Q1 2021 earnings calls
Speaking as concerned citizens, we sincerely hope you seize this opportunity as soon as possible.
SEAL Impact Team
Class of 2020
WHY ARE WE DOING THIS PUBLICLY?
Since our first ideas of an environmentally-focused rewards card, we recognized that this concept would face innate skepticism.
“Will people really give up half their rewards?”
“There aren’t that many people who REALLY care about climate change.”
Encouragingly, we consistently heard positive reactions, such as: “Why doesn’t this card already exist?” and “Sounds amazing!”
Right or wrong, we elected not to pursue this privately with your institutions. Why?
- Our sense that this idea would be labeled as “smart” and “interesting” – maybe even added to a backlog of “future opportunities” your strategy groups maintain – but not worthy of investing real money, time, and energy to sufficiently due diligence.*
- Presenting this idea publicly allows us to prove demand – including public support from nonprofits, evidence of real people excited on social media, and potential consumers expressing strong interest in our combined 3,176 survey responses and interviews – in a way that a privately presented business case could not.
- A public launch is best aligned with SEAL Impact’s number one strategic goal of accelerating and maximizing the size of the sustainable donation pool created
- The path of working behind the scenes would risk having the rewards donation rate negotiated downward
- In comparison to likely being “slowed rolled” privately, we also believe a public launch creates competition and a sense of urgency for an institution to secure the tremendous benefits available to a first mover.
And why did SEAL not pursue this commercially itself?
Even though a sustainable rewards card could generate attractive financial returns for any issuer – whether a start-up or in partnership with a mid-cap bank – the urgency of addressing our climate crisis means the Eco Rewards concept should be pursued by the largest scale institutions in order to create the largest possible societal benefit as soon as possible.
This is a big idea that deserves the support of a big balance sheet, especially in terms of material marketing investment and capital support requirements, and your world-class talent.
*We also recognize that sustainability-related financial products might already be in your pipeline and that your institutions all are pursuing admirable ESG initiatives across your operations.
SEAL IMPACT TEAM
We are grateful to the SEAL Impact Team for their contributions and hard work on this campaign.
We believe the caliber and size of this team, especially that a small organization like SEAL was able to recruit, is a further indicator of the level of enthusiasm that Eco Rewards will create.
ABOUT SEAL AWARDS
SEAL (Sustainability, Environmental Achievement & Leadership) Awards is an environmental advocacy organization that honors leadership through our awards for business sustainability & environmental journalism while funding research and pursuing our own impact campaigns like Eco Rewards.
ADDITIONAL SURVEY RESULTS ANALYSIS
SELECTED CONSUMER INTERVIEW QUOTES
The SEAL Impact team completed 173 one-to-one interviews with potential Eco Rewards cardholders.
Selected quotes containing consumer insights are provided below. Any parties interested in creating an Eco Rewards card will have access to our raw interview files as part of their due diligence.
Is this a card you would sign up for?
“I would sign up for the Eco Rewards Card because it’s a win-win. I get something and give something back, whereas all the other cards are all about you. You’re donating but it’s not really coming out of your pocket, so you’re paying it forward and sharing your reward with someone for a good cause.”
“Yeah, possibly. I’m really concerned about environmental issues. Consumerism has put a negative impact on the world and I feel this is a good way to fight back.”
“The devil’s in the details. I’d want to understand what charities are being donated to and how effective the specific charities are. We want to make sure some CEO is not taking advantage of the situation. In principle, yes.”
“I would want to make sure that I trusted the credit card company, I would make sure I liked the organizations the money was going to, and I would want to know what the money was being used for. If all of that was there, then yes I’d be interested.”
“Yes, given my research that there’s a good percentage going to donations rather than administrative fees.”
“It is possible…in the past miles have been my incentive but the eco rewards is more attractive to me than cash back”
“Maybe, with detailed information about the exact programs that would be funded, knowledge of a 5 year plan.”
Would using this card make you feel like you are doing something about climate change?
“Yes, I should still do more but this could be a good start and contribution everyone should not mind making”
“This card would give me peace of mind that I am doing something about climate change”
“When you use the card, you are reminded that you are making the world a better place.”
“Having a card like this would allow people to contribute to efforts without thinking about it.”
“[Doing] something is better than nothing.”
“Guardedly. I would have to be mindful about making sure that the funds are being productively used.”
“A little bit, yes. I would feel like I contributed something.”
“Yes, it would be an easy way to do so.”
“Yes, if I was shown where the money is going.”
“I could just swipe my card like always and know there’s a good cause built into my spending.”
“Yeah of course, because I would be giving back and donating and some money that is not even mine, it goes out of my way to do it for me.”
“Yes, because I would be supporting climate change as best as I can without directly donating.”
“Yes it would! If I chose to have this card, I think it’d make me feel like I’m contributing to society any time I made a purchase, which is great and something I can’t argue with.”
“Yes it would. It’s a simple way to help the environment by doing something I would already do.”
Would using this card make you feel like you are doing something about climate change?
“It would make me feel like I’m better than others.”
“I think using this card would make me feel like I’m doing something for climate change, which is nice and convenient because I don’t currently feel like I’m doing enough.”
“Yes, absolutely, because I do understand the power of funding these organizations/entities.”
“Definitely, it would make me feel like that through my purchases I am influencing the greater good and an issue that matters.”
How would you feel about giving up all of your rewards (instead of the proposed half to environmental purposes)?
“I wouldn’t have an issue with giving up all of my rewards. I have a card that is a cashback and I don’t even use the cash that I get from them so if it could go to a charity, that would be better. It would make me feel like I would be making a difference.”
“Totally fine honestly, I never usually pay attention to my rewards so I think it would be nice to have a portion go towards environmental purposes.”
“I would be on-board with that. I could see doing that if I thought the money was really going towards projects I agreed with.”
“I wouldn’t mind it, actually, I’m not obsessed with buying things I don’t really need for sake of rewards, I actually use rewards to pay back the card anyway.”
“Personally, for me it would be fine, I don’t really use my credit cards a lot so my rewards aren’t really stashing up. The couple bucks I do make, I would be fine going 100% towards environmental charity.”
“I think I would prefer giving up all the rewards. I don’t think they’re something I would inherently need, so it’s better that they go towards something more beneficial.”
Is there anything else you would like to share with me?
“I suppose the success of this card will directly depend on the demonstrated proactive qualities of the organizations that the money goes to.”
“I’m concerned about inadequate practices in organizations. There should be constant auditing and oversight over how the money is being used.”
“I think it’s a great idea.”
“I think it should have an option to make an additional donation or set up an annual giving through it. Also providing information on the charities and climate change to Eco Reward users would be a good idea.”
“Would prefer if 2% back was split and consumers got at least 1%, like that my current cards give a lot of benefits and cashback.”
“If someone puts 100% into donations, the overalll 1.2% should be increased to 2%.”
“It is an awesome idea.”
Selected Commentary On Eco Rewards 1.20% Total Rewards Rate
Is This A Card You Would Sign-Up For?:
“No, but if I didn’t have a card with such good benefits [note: uses Chase Sapphire] I probably would. Like if I was young and didn’t know about it yet. You gotta get people young!”
“It depends on the extent of the benefits and range of sustainable companies associated. If the benefits were at par with let’s say a DiscoverItChrome, I might consider it. I’ve already got a pretty decent credit score and history so a card with “beginners” perks is not what I’m looking for at the moment. I do think this card has potential as a concept and I might suggest it to those I know who are looking at options for their first credit card.”
“I feel like 1.2% is very little. Most of my other cards have a rewards rate of 1.5%. I would more likely use this card if I receive at least 1%.”
Note: SEAL Impact believes that the Eco Rewards brand has a wide addressable market opportunity, allowing for a multi-tier brand design with a mix of different total rewards rates (depending on credit capacity and spending) such as a 1.5%-2.0% rewards rate (still split 50/50) for premium customers or a low percent of cashback rewards for 1st-time cardholders.
SELECTED AFFLUENT USER INTERVIEW QUOTES
To complement our quantitative survey, SEAL Impact contacted roughly 100 higher-income respondents (defined as over $100,000 household income) with follow-up questions.
Selected quotes containing affluent consumer insights are provided below:
How would paying with the Eco Rewards Card help you make a values statement (or pejoratively “virtual signal”) in the eyes of your peers?
“The choice of doing so alone would initiate interest in the card from my peers. It would lend credibility to the card over other cards, merely because someone they respect or are like is using it.”
“I don’t think the perceptions of others would be that important to me. It would be more important to me for my own satisfaction, almost as a way of helping to offset the environmental impact of purchases (though of course not completely and would go in tandem with other donations).”
How will knowing your purchases are helping raise money for the environment make it easier and more exciting to make a purchase?
“I think there would be some small satisfaction while making a purchase, but more satisfaction if I saw on my statement that my purchases contributed a certain amount per month, per quarter, per year, or during the life of the card. Seeing the small amounts add up would make me loyal to the brand over a longer period of time.”
“It wouldn’t, it’d just allow some benefit to come from spending I’m doing anyway.”
“I try to limit my consumption in general, but would certainly prefer to use a card that aligns with my values over my current card to make purchases.”
Would you be more likely to put big purchases on your Eco Rewards Card in order to maximize your donations to the environment?
“Probably. Especially if I felt the purchases had a big environmental impact (like air travel) or if I felt they weren’t absolutely necessary. For example, buying electronics or other nice-to-haves would make me feel more driven to help offset the environmental impact of those splurges.
“Not particularly – the overall reward level is low enough that I’d be better off just putting it on one of my higher reward cards (Chase Sapphire Reserve if it’s for travel, Fidelity Rewards otherwise – 3% and 2% respectively) and making a donation.”
“If I obtained an “eco” card, I would probably use it for large purchases such as a computer, and possibly for ones involving merchant promotions or donation matches. I might also use it to pay my huge insurance bills, since that is the industry I most resent for over-pricing, over-lobbying, etc.”
Why is it important for you to be able to select the specific eco charities receiving your rewards donations?
“I think some eco charities align more fully with my values than others. For example, where climate change and social justice meet, I feel most strongly about spending my resources there. Other people might feel most passionately about preserving the oceans or saving wildlife. All are important, but people give most to the organizations they feel most passionately about.”
“I like to be able to do some amount of vetting of donations that I do.”
“Different organizations and charities handle donations and fundraising differently. Not all “eco friendly” initiatives are truly eco-friendly and may just be greenwashed marketing. I would prefer to have the agency to select which charities my donations go to in order to best align with my values, and to feel assured that my donations are making a difference in the issues that I care about.”
APPENDIX: Behavioral Economics + Eco Rewards
Behavioral economics principles can help explain why it is easier to “give up” rewards than you might expect.
Our conversation with Stephen Shu – behavioral economist and author of “Nudging Democratized: A Guide to Applying Behavioral Science”- is excerpted below:
SEAL: Is there a behavioral economics dynamic that makes it easier to give rewards away since they are “free” (e.g. never fully possessed and different than writing an “out of pocket” check to a charity)?
Shu: Playing to your observation of “never fully possessed”, one mechanism that might be related is the notion of the endowment effect. Namely, people value things more when they have it or own it in some sense. When people write a check to charity they literally have the money, and it is harder to part with. And there is a related aspect of the behavioral obstacle of inertia; people have to take action to write an out-of-pocket check.
SEAL: Would you compare this “donation aversion” to the “loss aversion” theme from your research (where people dislike saving because it cuts into spending and that people hate losing stuff)?
Shu: Donation aversion can be related to loss aversion. The key for loss aversion to be triggered is that you have to have a sense of people’s reference point. Anything below the reference point triggers the affective feelings of loss. For example, if the reference point is a person’s wealth or ability to consume and the donation is viewed as cutting into that, then loss aversion will usually be triggered. So sometimes the key is to reframe people’s decisions so that the reference point seems different. One’s perception of eating 80% beef versus 20% fat is quite different. These are equivalent notions, but the reference point has been changed.
We note this “reference point” dynamic would encourage having reward donation balances being auto-debited each month (e.g. cardholders would be less likely to see the amounts foregone).
Other relevant behavioral economics examples include:
- Nudges + Automatic Opt-ins: As noted by UCLA behavioral economics professor Dr. Shlomo Bernartzi in his TED Talk in Germany, people have to opt-in if they want to be organ donors, whereas in Austria, people must opt-out if they do not want to be organ donors. As a result, only 12% of people in Germany are organ donors. By comparison, 99% of people in Austria are organ donors due to the “nudge” provided by an automatic opt-in model.
- Unexpected Joy of Giving: Behavioral economists Dr. Shlomo Benartzi and Dr. Christopher Olivola mention, in a joint paper, that participants in a survey were more content with $100 being given to someone else rather than keeping the $100 to themselves. With this data, they concluded that, giving makes people happier.
APPENDIX: Challenges In Traditional Credit Card Market
Issuers’ reward expenses per account increased 30% from Q1 2015 to Q4 2018.
APPENDIX: Fair Share of Social Purpose + Charitable Rewards
As a proxy for the “rewards agnostic” category, 31% of credit card users do not redeem their rewards.
The opportunity for social purpose rewards cards is further augmented by:
- a shift of consumer values towards social responsibility
Unique challenges in the travel-specific + travel-linked premium card categories (depressed volume for next ~3 years due to COVID19 and then longer-term headwinds from Zoom-type remote collaboration and a growing stigma of air travel due to its environmental costs)
While we are not experts or historians of the credit card market, the lack of meaningful charitable cards today seems to be more of a product of very limited awareness* and the assumption that consumers would not want to give away a meaningful amount of their rewards. Our survey data helps illustrate the opposite is true. A higher donation amount actually creates a higher purpose for the card, thereby generating higher consumer interest and usage.
* Over the course of conducting almost 200 one-to-one consumer interviews, centered around the very topic of Eco Rewards, so an ideal audience, we heard only one mention of an existing charity card (Working Assets).
APPENDIX: Representative Charity Cards Today
* Estimation (given certain 2%-3% bonus categories for BoA WWF)
** For comparison, Chase Sapphire generates ~250,000 searches per month(SEAL Impact estimates made using SpyFu software)
APPENDIX: Aligned Charities As Channels
We believe that Eco Rewards can benefit from channel partnerships with environmental organizations and their membership bases. As the Edelman Trust Barometer indicates, these organizations are more trusted than the financial services industry.
APPENDIX: Concept Of Eco Rewards User Portal
Consumer interviews suggest that potential Eco Rewards Card users will be more enthusiastic about adopting the card if it will offer the opportunity to select the organizations that their donations will be directed towards. Eco Rewards Card users want transparency – to see how and where their money will be spent gives consumers a sense of relief, knowing that their donations are helping the environment.
Additionally, nonprofit organizations feel more comfortable endorsing a fundraising concept if they feel like they are receiving donations from individuals, rather than “taking corporate money from a bank.”
An online donations portal will provide an elegant solution to both needs.
The Eco Rewards Card portal would have a ‘select your own donation’ platform. Card users can browse through a list of participating organizations, select the recipients of their rewards dollars, and change the amount of their donations, all directly on the portal.
Donors will also be able to set up recurring donations through automatic charges, which will then be defrayed by the rewards they earn through overall spending. This will be beneficial for both card users and participating nonprofits, providing the opportunity for users to exercise donation choice and nonprofit partners to have visibility on their monthly anticipated income nonprofits visibility into their monthly anticipated income.
The online portal provides an ‘enriched experience’ for the consumer.
By increasing marketing touchpoints such as highlighting charities or seasonal fund drives on the portal, spontaneous giving will likely increase above anticipated rewards amounts. Corporate partner-sponsored “donation matching campaigns” will incentivize cardholders to spend with certain retailers or purchase from participating brands.