Fidelity Ends Card Partnership With AmEx, BofA in Visa Deal

  • Visa, U.S. Bancorp to take over as the card's network, issuer
  • Fidelity executive says those brands align better with its own

Fidelity Investments is ending its cash-back credit-card partnership with American Express Co. and Bank of America Corp., capping a year of fierce competition among networks and lenders for deals that bring in customers.

Visa Inc. and U.S. Bancorp will take over as the network and issuer of the Fidelity card, according to Ram Subramaniam, president of Fidelity’s retail brokerage business. Their brands are more closely aligned with Boston-based Fidelity’s, and financial terms didn’t play a major role in the move, he said in an interview.

The decision ends months of talks with Fidelity as financial firms look to wrest away partnerships that can fuel their long-term growth. Costco Wholesale Corp. said early last year that it will replace AmEx with Visa and Citigroup Inc., while JetBlue Airways Corp. broke a relationship with AmEx in favor of MasterCard Inc. and Barclays Plc. With co-brand cards accounting for about 30 percent of all transactions, banks and networks risk rising costs as they try to outbid each other, according to Goldman Sachs Group Inc. analyst Ryan Nash.

Bloomberg first reported in August that Fidelity was weighing a change. The card -- known under the old partnership as the Fidelity Investment Rewards American Express -- will continue to offer a 2 percent refund on purchases, which can be paid into a variety of Fidelity brokerage, cash-management and savings accounts.

‘Limited Opportunity’

The decision to end the partnership with Bank of America was mutual, said Betty Riess, a spokeswoman for the Charlotte, North Carolina-based lender.

“Bank of America has been exiting from our financial institutions card business where Bank of America has limited opportunity to deepen customer relationships, and this move is consistent with that strategy,” Riess said Monday in an e-mailed statement.

Marina Norville, an AmEx spokeswoman, said the Fidelity portfolio represents less than 1 percent of the company’s total billings and that customers can continue to use their cards through mid-year.

American Express shares dropped 3.1 percent to $67.39 at 9:44 a.m. in New York, compared with the 2.2 percent retreat of the Dow Jones Industrial Average. Bank of America slid 2.9 percent to $16.34 and Visa declined 2.2 percent to $75.39.

Consumers who use the card spend a total of about $11 billion annually, according to Subramaniam. That’s dwarfed by the amount AmEx has typically handled through its deal with Costco, which has accounted for roughly 8 percent of the network’s more-than $1 trillion in annual billed business.

Still, losing the Fidelity tie-up affects operations AmEx has been targeting for expansion: facilitating transactions in which another bank is the lender.

AmEx’s Strategy

The fastest-growing portion of spending on AmEx’s network comes from its global network services business, where other banks issue AmEx-branded cards. Total GNS-billed business jumped 13 percent in the third quarter, adjusted for currency fluctuations, compared with a 4 percent increase on AmEx’s proprietary cards.

While AmEx lost some partnerships during the past year, it has said it won’t enter deals with terms that don’t make financial sense, and that it’ll keep fighting to add and extend relationships.

“It’s all about finding the right partners with the right vision,” Chief Financial Officer Jeff Campbell told investors at a conference last month. It wants partners “whose assets are complementary and whose vision for what they’re trying to do for their customers and what they’re trying to do to drive their business is complementary to ours.”

As part of the deal, Minneapolis-based U.S. Bancorp also agreed to acquire Fidelity’s existing co-brand credit-card portfolio with about $1.6 billion of loans, Fidelity said Monday in a statement. Terms weren’t disclosed.

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