The following is a guest post contributed by Charles Rechlin, a long-time reader and friend of the site. His last guest post covered Personal CD Investing: Step-Up and Step-Rate CDs. I would like to thank Charles for sharing more of his valuable experience on personal CD investing.
Notes on Personal CD Investing: Loyalty Rewards and Customer Promotions
by Charles Rechlin
Remember the Ally Bank ad featuring the “ice cream man?”
In it, a little boy asks the ice cream man (who is dressed suspiciously like a banker) whether he can have an ice cream from his truck. The man haughtily replies: “No, it’s just for new people.” A second boy—obviously one of those “new people”—comes along and is offered his choice of chocolate, vanilla or strawberry, much to the chagrin of the first child. An announcer intones: “Even kids know it’s wrong to treat new friends better than old friends.”
Frankly, when it comes to CD rates, I don’t particularly care whether an institution treats new friends and old friends alike—just so long as I’m the right type of friend, entitled to the higher rate.
That said, I do have a certain fondness (which, sadly, may be a nostalgic fondness) for banks and credit unions that bump-up rates for current customers through renewal rate bonuses (also called “loyalty rewards”) and customer-directed CD promotions.
Apart from my obvious personal interest in achieving higher CD yields, I think these customer-friendly practices make sense for the institutions involved. They help attract and maintain long-term depositors--their potentially most stable funding source—in what is otherwise largely an impersonal market. I wish more of them would wake up to this fact. Maybe some will if, following the recent election, interest rates (and inflation) pick up, as many bond market gurus now think.
Although Ally may not have invented the loyalty reward, it seems to have the best-known (and most consistently applied) practice of bumping-up posted rates for customers who choose to renew their CDs at maturity.
The bonus, first offered in late 2009 or early 2010, was originally 50 basis points. Ally soon reduced the reward to 25 basis points, where it remained (extended from quarter to quarter) for quite a while. Currently, it’s a mere five basis points.
This .05% rate bump-up, pathetic as it seems, is not necessarily something we yield-starved investors should sneer at. It can make a difference in a decision about whether to stay with Ally when a CD matures, or move the CD balance elsewhere. For me, it has, on more than one occasion, transformed a non-competitive Ally posted CD rate into a rate that was competitive (if only barely so).
For example, I had an Ally IRA CD mature last month. At the time, the closest Ally was offering to competitive CD rates were 1.30% APY for its 18-month CD and 1.55% APY for its 3-year CD, in each case tied to a balance of $25,000 or more. To my mind, bumping these rates up to 1.35% and 1.60% APY via the loyalty reward would make them competitive. For this reason, and to avoid the hassles of arranging a trustee-to-trustee transfer of IRA assets, I chose to renew my Ally IRA CD for three years.
In the past, Nationwide Bank has also offered me a .05% bump-up bonus for renewing maturing CDs. This year, I took advantage of the bonus by renewing a four-year jumbo CD, with a rate of 1.65% APY, into a 5-year jumbo CD, with a rate of 2.05% APY. Had I not been offered the rate bump, Nationwide’s then posted 2.00% APY rate for 5-year jumbo CDs would have led me to move my money elsewhere.
Nationwide doesn’t disclose the availability of renewal rewards, and my experience is that CSRs will not serve them up unless you specifically ask. Further, I don’t know whether the bank has internal guidelines, such as a minimum CD balance, for offering the bonus. Anyway, in my view, all of Nationwide’s current CD rates are non-competitive, even with a .05% bump-up.
Other institutions that have offered me renewal bonuses, in the now distant past, include Bank of Internet USA, Rabobank and CIT Bank. I have no recent experience with any of these banks, however, so I don’t know their current practices (although I suspect bonuses are no longer available).
Last month, a branch of a local community bank was willing to offer me a premium rate for a one-year renewal of a maturing 3-year CD. However, I wasn’t interested in a CD of that term and, in any event, the resulting rate would have been less than what I could have obtained at several other institutions. I appreciate, however, the bank’s gesture to retain my funds.
In the last five years, I’ve succeeded only once in “negotiating” an individualized renewal rate. It involved three jumbo 2-year CDs at a relatively small bank maturing around the same time. The bank offered me a substantial premium over its then posted rate for renewing these CDs for five additional years. I promised the bank, however, that I would never disclose its identity or what it offered me—so I won’t.
It seems obvious to me that, if an institution believes that it has done right by its existing depositors, and that those depositors are happy with what they’ve received in return for placing their money at the institution, then they represent a valuable source of additional funding through promotions.
Of course, what I think is obvious, and what depository institutions actually do, are entirely different matters.
Over the last three years, I’ve benefitted from special promotions directed solely at existing customers conducted by two major banks—CIT and First Republic.
During 2014, CIT offered several of these promotions, featuring premiums of up to fifteen basis points over posted rates (depending upon maturity) on various CDs in its deposit products suite. At first, the promotions were advertised in emails sent to customers; eventually, CIT made the offers available through a link on each customer’s online banking page.
Because, at the time, CIT was among the national yield leaders in many CD maturities, I loaded up on these promotions with both IRA and regular CDs.
Unfortunately, the bank seems to have discontinued offering customer-directed promotional CDs (at least to me) after it completed its acquisition of OneWest Bank in 2015. These days, CIT appears nowhere near as anxious as it once was to grow its long-term deposit base. It’s more interested in shrinking interest costs. In fact, it has trimmed posted CD rates to levels that are pretty much non-competitive. It has also offered me (and probably many other customers) the opportunity, prior to December 23, to trade rate for liquidity by moving my funds presently invested in 3- to 5-year CDs into a CIT “high-yield” savings account, without payment of any EWP. I’m not interested.
First Republic—which I’ve always considered a customer-friendly brick-and-mortar bank—has also launched CD “specials” and promotions in recent years.
In both 2013 and 2014, it offered existing depositors (through a postcard mailing) a .25% bump over posted rates for opening new money CDs. Each promotion lasted a month, and permitted the customer to establish multiple CDs. Because First Republic’s posted rates were already competitive without the bonus bump-up, I took full advantage of each promotion, using funds available from CDs maturing elsewhere.
I haven’t received a promotional offer from First Republic since 2014. I’m hoping this only reflects the absence of current funding needs at the bank, not a lack of enthusiasm for the device of customer-directed promotions.
Some Final Thoughts
This piece reads like a lesson in ancient history. Perhaps some readers have had better luck in getting enhanced CD deals than I’ve had in the last couple of years.
With most banks and credit unions fleeing from, rather than seeking, additional long-term deposits, I don’t expect to be overwhelmed by offers of renewal rate bonuses or customer promotions any time soon. But if a significant increase in market interest rates occurs, as some analysts are predicting—and there is a marked improvement in economic conditions, some institutions may begin rethinking the idea of treating “old friends” like me better than they currently do. I’d certainly appreciate that.