Points Program Racks Up Profits

September 5, 2008
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GRAND RAPIDS — Kline Kauramaki has been using bank rewards programs to pay for business travel expenses for more than 20 years and doesn’t understand why any business man or woman wouldn’t take advantage of them. 

Kauramaki, president of Marketing Tools Inc., previously worked for 20 years as a CPA in the financial services sector. He said he recognized early on the advantages of bank rewards programs and became an early adapter.

“I saw it as a profit center,” he recalled.

Originally, he used American Express, which was the first to come out with a rewards program. He migrated to National City 10 years ago. Kauramaki has racked up more than one million points in the Points From National City program in just the past two years by making major business purchases with his National City credit card, bank card or check.

Marketing Tools has been around for 20 years and is the largest premiums and promotions company in West Michigan. It supplies advertising specialties as well as creative work for campaigns and promotions for clients all over the country. Its premium and promotions items include everything from Cross and Mont Blanc pens, to exclusive clothing and golf apparel from well-known brands such as Gear, Cutter & Buck, Swiss Army, Columbia and Carhartt. Kauramaki has used his points mostly toward travel expenses.

Building reward points by charging business purchases isn’t the only advantage. “Then we get an extra 30 days of financing also, because in essence, we’re  paying the bill via credit card and we don’t have to pay the credit card bill for another 30 days,” Kauramaki explained.

Customers in the Points From National City program receive points for making signature-based purchases with a National City CheckCard or Business CheckCard, for making purchases using a home equity or small business line of credit access card, for making purchases with a National City Elite Visa or Diamond Edition Elite Visa Credit Cards, and for writing checks and paying bills online.

Kauramaki combines his business transaction points with points from his personal accounts to earn rewards faster, which is an option for every customer.

National City awards customers two points for every $1 for transactions made on a National City Business CheckCard, on credit card purchases of up to $5,000 annually, on home equity line of credit access card spending, on small business line of credit access card spending. It awards 25 points per $1, up to 500 points monthly, on checks, online bill payments, PIN purchases at point of sale, and direct debits from checking. Customers can earn 5 points per $1 from credit card purchases over $5,000 annually. They can also earn 5,000 bonus points for opening and using a new small business line of credit or home equity loan, adding direct deposit to their checking account, or opening a select savings account with a preauthorized monthly transfer or any other type of savings account without a preauthorized monthly transfer. The bank also will award 5,000 bonus points for first-time enrollment in any of the above services.

Sean Welsh, regional president for National City, said the rewards program is unique in that it’s not 100 percent tied to a credit card. Plus, there’s no black-out period for purchases such as airline tickets as there is with other cards. 

“The product has a wide-open target market, but it really is a big benefit for small business owners,” Welsh said. “Through it we reward our small business clients and our personal banking clients for doing business with us — writing checks and doing normally daily business transactions.”

He said the points can be used toward a myriad of things customers may need for their businesses, from airline tickets or computer accessories.

“I have to say that the reason we switched to National City is because of the ease of use of its rewards program,” Kauramaki said. “It had become so difficult to use some of the other point programs as the rules changed and the playing field kept shifting on them. National City’s is the absolutely best points program I’ve found. It’s just so much simpler to use.”

Some 16.4 percent of National City business banking customers participate in the points program currently, noted spokesman Bill Eiler. “Most of our top point earners are business banking customers, including one business that has already earned 7.6 million points this year alone. We’ve had 15 businesses earn over 1 million points so far this year — enough to redeem for 10 round-trip airline tickets. And we recently had one business redeem nearly 700,000 points at one time for 60 gift cards that they distributed to employees at their recent summer picnic.”

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