Lessons from Apple’s Bite of the Card Business

By John Oxford

Many bank marketers serve on product committees and are charged with researching, testing and suggesting innovative offerings for their clients and companies. Thus, if you’re a bank marketer, the launch of the much-talked-about Apple Card in March 2019 was a noteworthy event, which brought much envy and admiration.

Now that the famed Apple Card has been in the market for nearly 10 months, what can we learn from Apple’s foray into the banking—or more specifically, the credit card space?

Temper your jealousy and any aspirations for the unattainable. Goldman Sachs spent $300 million in partnering with Apple to develop this product, according to a Wall Street Journal report last fall. This is where we could probably just stop the discussion.

Three hundred million is about the annual revenue of a healthy $10 billion bank. Just looking at simple math, there is no way any but the very largest banks have the resources to develop such a product.

The article also mentions that Goldman reassigned thousands of engineers to finish it on time. I’m willing to bet your bank doesn’t even have dozens of engineers. The point is: the vast majority of banks do not have the resources or bandwidth to create such a product.

However, we can take note of how simple the product is, both in its to market conversion capabilities and usability. And what can we do about that?

Continue to make banking simpler.

This is one of those Captain Obvious statements. But how many times have we looked at our bank’s website, app or online account opening process and sarcastically thought, “Can we make this any more complicated?” Other than the sheer brand power of Apple, the simplicity of the card is what makes it a great consumer product. How can we bankers take some direction from Apple?

Review our online account opening process.

Maybe we should back up and first say: have an online account opening process. Then ask: How simple is it? Can you fund a new account with a debit card, credit card, through Apple Pay, Google Pay—or even Zelle or PayPal? Forcing a prospective client to go searching for a routing number to fund a new account is not simple nor is it client friendly.

Can we complete the opening process in five minutes or less? Can we instantly deliver an electronic debit card to a mobile wallet upon funding of the account? How quickly will we allow a new client to make a mobile check deposit—and how do we balance fraud risk with consumer appetite for convenience? How many disclaimers and agreements will disrupt the sign-up process? Are they necessary? If so, is there a better way of delivering them? Much of this may need to be addressed in the regulation requirements as well as the product delivery process.

Many of us struggle with the items mentioned above. And although Apple’s product is a credit card, Apple and Goldman used the branding and delivery power of Apple to introduce a well-designed product that is simple in both sign-up and usage. So again, in taking a 2020 New Year’s look at our products, how can we make them simpler for our clients?

Find partners.

Although Apple’s marketing says its card was not made by a bank, Goldman is in fact a bank, and it had deep involvement in designing and issuing the Apple Card product. Apple is one of the world’s largest and most sophisticated tech companies. How can we translate this to our bank’s level and find well-matched partners to help us? One way is to attend various ABA conferences and find which partner vendors are great matches for your bank.

Play to our own strengths.

Beyond who we’re partnered with and how a product is designed, a bank’s advantage may be in how the product is delivered and what’s the right fit for the bank’s clientele. That is where our talent as marketers comes in. I’d be willing to bet that very few, if any, of your clients know anyone who works for Apple or Goldman. Thus, you have a major advantage on your own ground game.

In other words, if we can’t beat them in technology, marketing or simplicity, we beat them on relationships—but that’s an entirely different discussion from this column.

So to review: Although all of us can admire the Apple Card, don’t waste your time on something you don’t have the resources to create. Take a directional hint on consumer preferences in trying to make your products simpler. And find partners that can help meet your technology needs as well as use your relationship advantages where others do not have them.

We delve further into this topic on this week’s edition of the Marketing Money Podcast where I hash it out with Josh Mabus of the Mabus Agency.

John Oxford is director of marketing at Renasant Bank and co-host of the Marketing Money Podcast.