The Best Credit Card Business No One Talks About


When it comes to great credit card businesses, American Express (NYSE: AXP  ) and Discover Financial  (NYSE: DFS  ) seem to always assert themselves toward the top of the list – and for good reason. There's one company, however, that never seems to get enough love. 

Citigroup (NYSE: C  ) , believe it or not, is the world's largest issuer of credit cards. This business struggled with the rest of the company during the financial crisis. However, the leadership of CEO of Citi cards, Jud Linville, has righted the ship and turned Citigroup in to a credit card company to be reckoned with. 

American Express and Discover use a closed-loop model. This means that it both issues cards and acquiring merchants. This allows Discover and American Express to analyze trends and create more targeted rewards programs. Since information never leaves its network, it also stays more secure. 

While a closed-loop strategy is often considered the gold standard, it does come with one big limitation: distribution. To combat this issue, Discover and American Express will enter into relationships with bigger or international banks. 

Citigroup uses an open-loop model, issuing cards onto Visa's and MasterCard's networks. Citigroup's unique global footprint, mixed with the ease of issuing cards onto a readily accepted network, has allowed the company to become the world's leader in card distribution with 142 million accounts. 

Customer appeal
When it comes to traditional customer service, there are few if any that can top Discover and America Express. As mentioned, the model that the companies use gives them a huge advantage in this department.

Even just a few years ago, Citi cards sported a net promoter score of zero. This means there were just as many customers that would recommend Citi cards as there were who wouldn't. Over the past three years, the business has improved its net promoter score to positive 50%. This is still a far cry from American Express and Discover, but it's a big step in the right direction. 

Customer appeal also means having products people enjoy using. Again, just three years ago, Citigroup's credit cards and fraud detection were in shambles. Since then, the company has simplified its product offerings and made rewards cards more rewarding. The company also gave its fraud detection a much needed facelift. This included implementing a new cutting-edge infrastructure. According to Linville, the net promoter score on fraud detection had improved "tenfold." 

Show me the money
OK, so Citigroup has great distribution, and has made a valiant effort to improve its customer appeal. Do the cards make any money? Oh yes. In fact, Citi cards stacks up well next to American Express and Discover.

The first thing that pops out is Citi's jump in income from 2010 to 2011. That was primarily due to a $5 billion decline in net credit losses, meaning more loans were getting paid off. 

Looking forward, Citi card's loans could be at greater risk of default as it serves a larger portion of the population, at least compared the affluent focused American Express. However, in the past few years, its been even more efficient at turning revenue into income when compared to American Express. Overall, investors shouldn't be surprised to see Citi cards more than keep pace. 

Bottom line
Citigroup can be broken into two businesses: Citi Holdings, which the company is actively attempting to wind down, and its core banking business Citicorp. In 2013, Citi cards accounted for $1 out of every $3 earned by Citicorp.

This is a fantastic business that more than holds its own compared to the industry titans, and it will be a huge driver for Citigroup. So the next time you talk about the best credit card companies, don't forget about the hidden gem at Citigroup.

Is Citigroup ready for the post-credit card age?
The plastic in your wallet is about to go the way of the typewriter, the VCR, and the 8-track tape player. When it does, a handful of investors could stand to get very rich. You can join them -- but you must act now. An eye-opening new presentation reveals the full story on why your credit card is about to be worthless -- and highlights one little-known company sitting at the epicenter of an earth-shaking movement that could hand early investors the kind of profits we haven't seen since the dot-com days. Click here to watch this stunning video.

Read/Post Comments (2) | Recommend This Article (2)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On April 12, 2014, at 10:45 PM, CeaRay wrote:

    Another total crap store of Motley fool. Citi holding was not touched in the 4th quarter of the year. They have missed the last two quarters and are so screwed up with Corbat running the operation its not funny. You have Mexican's stealing million from the bank and shareholders and the drug cartel banking with Citi in Southern California. Management taking large raises and screwing the stockholders for another year. they are paying large sum on law suits with no end in sight. Citi nick name is Shitty Citi.

  • Report this Comment On April 15, 2014, at 2:47 PM, mikewatson021 wrote:

    Glenn believes that the strength of the American Express brand coupled with the added investment in capital will likely unlock value in the company’s troubled business travel division, and will help the company maintain its superior position as a premier travel service provider.

Add your comment.

Sponsored Links

Leaked: Apple's Next Smart Device
(Warning, it may shock you)
The secret is out... experts are predicting 458 million of these types of devices will be sold per year. 1 hyper-growth company stands to rake in maximum profit - and it's NOT Apple. Show me Apple's new smart gizmo!

DocumentId: 2910799, ~/Articles/ArticleHandler.aspx, 8/29/2015 11:46:42 PM

Report This Comment

Use this area to report a comment that you believe is in violation of the community guidelines. Our team will review the entry and take any appropriate action.

Sending report...

Dave Koppenheffer

Dave Koppenheffer, is a contributor for the Motley Fool's financial sector. And much like Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, when he speaks, he speaks with an earnest vibe and an earnest energy.

Today's Market

updated 1 day ago Sponsored by:
DOW 16,643.01 -11.76 -0.07%
S&P 500 1,988.87 1.21 0.06%
NASD 4,828.33 15.62 0.32%

Create My Watchlist

Go to My Watchlist

You don't seem to be following any stocks yet!

Better investing starts with a watchlist. Now you can create a personalized watchlist and get immediate access to the personalized information you need to make successful investing decisions.

Data delayed up to 5 minutes

Related Tickers

8/28/2015 4:00 PM
AXP $76.65 Down -0.23 -0.30%
American Express CAPS Rating: ****
C $53.28 Down -0.16 -0.30%
Citigroup Inc CAPS Rating: ***
DFS $53.95 Down -0.49 -0.90%
Discover Financial… CAPS Rating: ****