Bankers’ Bank unveils ‘Shop Local’ credit card rewards program

A consumer credit card program that rewards shoppers who buy from locally-owned businesses has been introduced by Bankers’ Bank, Madison, Wis. The program, called Community Rewards Network for Credit Cards, is the bank’s first foray into consumer credit cards, said Robert Jarosinski, vice president, BankCards & Payments. “We’ve had a business credit card program for a couple of decades, but leadership was looking to start a consumer credit card product to complement the business credit card program.”

Bankers’ Bank’s community bank customers had long been asking for a consumer card program, Jarosinski said, and some 30 banks signed on before the program went live at the first of the year. More than 100 community banks in the bank’s four-state footprint, along with a few institutions beyond, now utilize the four-week-old program.

The timing is good. Not only do Americans love their credit cards, as evidenced by a recent report issued by the American Bankers Association, which revealed overall credit card purchase volumes rose in the third quarter of 2018, but many of the largest consumer credit card issuers are pulling back on their rewards programs, citing increasing cost.

When brainstorming the new program, Jarosinski said a key determinant was to build a program that allowed community banks a method to differentiate their cards from those offered by the biggest banks. “We didn’t want to do what everybody was doing,” he said. The key was to design a program that fit the mission of community banking. Shop Local fits with the community banking mission, he said.

One of the early adopters is First State Bank of Porter, Ind. “We can’t wait to bring it before the local Chamber of Commerce to share with our neighbors to build our merchant list,” said Jacqueline Ruge-Perkins, who recently became president and CEO of the $140 million bank. “Porter Bank is a true community bank dedicated to the Shop Local/Bank Local movement.”

Ironically, the Shop Local movement was elevated significantly in 2010 by the American Express company, when it launched a buy local campaign with built-in spending incentives it dubbed Small Business Saturday. That initiative tapped a growing desire among Americans to use the “power of the pocketbook” to support local economies, understanding the multiplier effect of dollars spent at locally-owned businesses was five times greater than money spent at big-box or national retailers. And while Small Business Saturday has become a retail fixture during the holiday shopping season, American Express has since pared back its support for the program. Lately, other large credit card issuers have announced a reduction or elimination of their rewards programs.

The cards issued within the Community Rewards Network for Credit Cards program are branded by issuing institutions. Community banks are responsible for adding local businesses to the network at no cost or obligation to the business. Card users earn 3 percent cash-back rewards when shopping at those businesses.

It’s no coincidence that the bank can choose which businesses participate; Jarosinski said it was “absolutely by design” that the program can be used as a banker-retailer touchpoint to nurture new commercial relationships.

The cards utilize the latest technology, including chip cards, access to mobile pays, and the coming contactless cards. Bankers’ Bank is also making customizable marketing materials available for participating banks and retailers.