The Retail Initiative for 2021: Improving Debit Card Portfolio Performance

The income potential of improving debit card portfolio performance – commonly referred to by insiders as PAU (Penetration, Activation, Utilization) – should place it at the forefront of most FI retail initiatives in 2021. In this three-part series, PRI leaders take a closer look at the best practices for growing a card portfolio, beginning with penetration.

In an earlier blog, we examined the importance of promoting the use of debit cards over checks. Tim Holt, Founder of PRI, reminded readers that profitability to the FI is key.

“Debit cards have at least one major advantage over both cash and checks, which is that the card generates interchange income for the FI every single time it is swiped for a purchase. Cash and checks are both simply an expense or, in other words, a risk without the reward.”

With that in mind, let’s focus on steps to improve debit card penetration.


To measure any improvement, FIs must first establish good tracking and reporting to properly measure current status and compare to appropriate benchmarks. To understand how much realistic opportunity there is for improvement, the FI should fully understand its debit card portfolio as is.  

In addition, differentiating between consumer and business BIN card penetration can be critical to appropriate growth efforts. 

“There may be business accounts hiding in consumer accounts or with consumer card types” said Mike Holt, Partner at PRI. “Investigate DDA title types for DBAs and sole proprietorships, and either issue a small business card or replace the consumer card with a business BIN card.

“The interchange differential is typically 4-5 times greater on business debit swipes than on consumer, and it’s not only because the spend is greater.”

Optimize New Account Processes

The next step to improving debit card penetration is to optimize new account processes to focus on issuing a card every time an account is opened, which many FIs have started to do.  However, it is equally important to develop new account scripting focusing on how to use the card, how easy it is, and why it’s better and safer than cash or checks.  Address any myths around online safety and ensure that employees are equipped to discuss mobile wallets and the increased level of security and convenience they provide.

“Once the FI has implemented good debit card penetration processes for new accounts, they should focus on converting older accounts to using debit cards instead of cash,” Holt said. “This will require outbound efforts such as customer onboarding follow-up calls, emails, and strong marketing support to have measurable success. It should be treated as a major retail effort.”  


Each branch and the call center should be tracked and reported individually. Incentivize staff for PAU performance within their branch and against other branches. There is no replacement for an energized sales staff when it comes to revenue enhancement.

However, optimal card penetration without card activation and proper utilization is ineffective in increasing profit. We’ll tackle improving activation and utilization in the next two blogs.  

Profit Resources specializes in identifying profitability improvement areas for financial institutions through revenue growth, cost control, streamlining processes, and effective use of technology. Contact us to learn more about our personalized approach to propel growth and improve profitability.

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