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Are campus card banking relationships coming back in style?

When I first began to work in the campus card industry, several early pioneering card programs were trying to figure out how to make the ID an ATM card. That was more than a decade ago, and slowly the ties between campus card programs and financial institutions moved beyond the pioneers to become an accepted part of the campus card landscape. The heyday of the banking relationship seemed to peak in the mid to late 1990s when many of the largest banks in the country were competing with regional institutions, community banks, and credit unions. They were are vying to secure that coveted exclusive access to provide service via the campus card.

But in recent years, questions about the future of campus card banking relationships have abounded. Many have dismissed them as a dying trend–citing the exodus of many of the early financial institutions that provided the services. Some banks reported losing money on the accounts because students tend to be demanding customers with limited deposits. Some schools reported disappointment with the volume of actual revenues shared through these ‘exclusive arrangements.’

I, like many of the skeptics, thought that this was likely true–that the originators had all bailed out. But in the research for the preparation of this banking-focused issue, I was surprised to find that I was not quite right. In reality, many of the early players are still in the game (e.g. Wells Fargo, PNC, SunTrust, TCF, Wachovia); others have chnaged names through acquisition (e.g. U.S. Bank); while the notable exceptions are those that have actually exited the market.

After the completing this issue, interviewing many of the financial institution leaders, and meeting with numerous campus card managers in person and via phone, it seems that a new era of bank partnerships may be coming. An era with more realistic expecations on the part of both the campuses and the banks. A new recognition among the bank leaders seems to exist more now than before, a realization that good service can win them customers for life–and profits must be viewed as a long term return rather than a short term prize. With this recognition, campus card banking relationships may just be back in style.

Chris Corum, Editor
[email protected]

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