Debit is Debit – Think Differently to Ensure Consistent Cardholder Experience

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PULSE PAY® Express Offers PINless and Signature Debit Routing Alternative


The debit industry has changed dramatically in recent years, and in this new landscape, “debit is debit.” PIN and signature processing are converging, and transactions without verification have increased significantly.

PULSE PAY® Express (PPE) is part of this growing trend and offers PULSE participants a PINless and signature debit routing alternative for card-present and card-not-present transactions.

Both merchants and issuers benefit from the superior net economics PPE provides, as well as from the increased competition the new routing option creates. You may have noticed an increase in the number of PPE transactions. This is the result of some of the country’s largest retail and fast food chains implementing the service recently.

“Debit is debit” means financial institutions can no longer assume that all PULSE transactions are PIN-verified or that all traditional signature network transactions are signature-verified.

As this trend continues, issuers need to make informed decisions about handling debit transactions to ensure the best cardholder experience. Here are recommendations to consider:

  • Handle transactions based on the verification method used at the point of sale, not the network source.
  • Make PINless and signature verification transactions from PULSE eligible for the same debit rewards as similar transactions from traditional signature networks to prevent cardholder confusion.
  • While the vast majority of issuers do not charge PIN fees, those that do should re-evaluate the practice. Under Reg II, PIN transactions are more profitable for most issuers.
  • Experience has shown that establishing fees based on transaction network rather than the verification method leads to cardholder confusion.

Since “debit is debit,” PINless and signature transactions from PULSE should be treated the same as those from traditional signature networks. This also means the same diligence should be applied in securing PPE transactions. A follow-up email next month will discuss best practices on fraud mitigation steps for signature and PINless transactions.

As a reminder, PULSE financial institution participants must support PPE transactions by October 1, 2015. Processors should already have completed PPE certification, so please contact your processor to ensure they are ready to receive PPE transactions on your behalf by this date.

Customer Experience: Crucial to Understand and Enhance

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Barriers to Service

In the “Moment of Truth” – the moment that really matters to your customer – the customer experience offered by a financial institution can determine whether that customer stays or goes. A negative experience results in a one-in-five chance of losing that customer for good.

Customers want businesses to “know me, hear me, help me,” PULSE’s Annette Harris told participants in the latest PULSE Academy® webinar. Harris is director of marketing at PULSE and practice leader for PULSE InSights®, the company’s comprehensive consulting service for financial institutions.

“Customer experience is their interaction with you and how they feel and perceive that interaction to be from the outside in,” Harris said. “It is not what you think is going on but what they think is going on.”

It matters because enhancing the customer experience improves the bottom line. In this highly competitive environment, it is essential for financial institutions to measure customer interactions, optimize channels, reduce the cost of service and enable relationship-based one-to-one marketing.

Know Me

“Understanding where the customer wants to interact with you is key,” Harris said. Sending emails to a customer who never checks emails but is in the branch every week is a waste of money, for example.

Financial institutions can measure interactions in a number of ways, Harris says. It can be as simple as measuring on a one-to-five scale how much time customers spend in a contact center queue or whether they get personalized transfers from one customer agent to another.

Journey mapping is another tool for measuring the customer experience. Typically it includes a large flowchart showing every step in achieving an objective from the customer’s point of view. Whether opening a checking account or obtaining a loan, it can be invaluable to see the journey from the customer’s eyes. Doing so can determine areas of expertise and show gaps or other areas that need attention, Harris says.

Hear Me

Understanding the customer experience is often just a matter of listening. Financial institutions can capture the voice of the customer in verbatim comments through various interactions. While only one in five customers who are dissatisfied will complain, Harris said much could be learned from tone and words.

“Measure the full customer experience – their emotions, the effort they must put in to doing business and the usefulness of the interaction,” Harris said. Harsh words indicate one thing, or their tone may indicate they enjoy doing business with you.

Help Me

“I cannot emphasize enough that to create a successful customer experience program, it must be a priority throughout the financial institution,” Harris says. Customer experience must be part of everyone’s goals, and everyone should be empowered to foster a customer-centric culture.

Once alignment is in place and data is collected, the important step is to take action by prioritizing top solutions and implementing action plans. It’s a matter of continual measurement and communication.

PULSE InSights can perform a complimentary diagnostic assessment of the current customer experience at your institution. Interested PULSE participants can contact their account manager or send an email to pulseinsights@pulsenetwork.com.

For those who want to learn more, Harris recommends “Customer Experience 3.0: High-Profit Strategies in the Age of Techno Service” by John A. Goodman. PULSE participants can log into this and other webinars through the PULSE Webinars and Webcasts page.

Debit Portfolio Performance Have You Seeing Red?

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If you sometimes feel powerless to influence your financial institution’s debit portfolio performance, it is understandable. Many factors go into determining the strengths and weaknesses of a financial institution’s debit portfolio. But make no mistake: debit portfolio performance is something you can influence.

One of the most powerful advantages payment cards provide is the wealth of behavioral data they generate. Unfortunately, many financial institutions don’t analyze their transaction data to formulate strategies aimed at portfolio performance.

It is important to close the gap between having information and leveraging that information to seize opportunities. Using the data at your fingertips can help drive revenue-driving cardholder behaviors, retain profitable cardholders and increase your marketing efficiency.

With minimal effort, financial institutions can improve portfolio performance. Here are three immediate opportunities:

  • Increase debit usage in the everyday spend category.
  • Improve customer segmentation to tailor marketing efforts.
  • Pay closer attention to fraud loss ratios, including the difference between signature and PIN.

Everyday Spend

Whether the economy is booming or in a deep recession, consumers will need to pay for gas, groceries and utilities. Establishing debit as the payment method of choice for these purchases can have long-term benefits. The first step in assessing debit portfolio performance in everyday spend is to compare it with industry benchmarks. How can you increase everyday spend? Incentives work wonders. Determine the behavior you want to encourage and offer a gift card or a credit to their account.

Customer Segmentation

Don’t send the same message about the same offer to all cardholders at the same time. Through customer segmentation, you can target incentives more effectively. Check the 2014 Debit Issuer Study to see how your debit portfolio performance stacks up against peers. To increase transactions, tailor an incentive for those who only occasionally use their debit card. You don’t need to target everyone – just the cardholders who represent the greatest opportunity for improvement.

Fraud Loss Ratio

Compare the number and dollar value of PIN versus signature transactions per active card to quickly identify looming threats to debit portfolio profitability. Fraud loss ratio is typically higher on signature than on PIN, so if you are too heavily weighted on signature, its higher fraud losses could impact overall portfolio performance. If this is the case, a financial institution may want to promote PIN, especially to those cardholders who primarily use signature debit.

Start Improving Debit Portfolio Performance Now

The time to start using the powerful data at your fingertips to grow and improve your business is now. The first step is to access key metrics, including:

  • Debit card penetration
  • Activation
  • Average number of transactions
  • Average ticket
  • Average monthly volume per card
  • Attrition

Compare your financial institution’s performance to benchmarks and then develop your strategic plan to move the needle.

If your financial institution has had difficulty getting started with data analytics, take a look at PULSE InSights, a consulting service that leverages our more than 30 years of debit leadership to help financial institutions analyze data and improve their performance.

Selecting the Right Debit Rewards Program: What Financial Institutions Should Consider

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PULSE Debit Rewards

What’s the best debit rewards program for your financial institution?

A successful rewards program can drive greater card usage and spend

Merchant offers have become an increasingly attractive option for financial institutions seeking to reconfigure their debit rewards programs, but not all merchant offers programs are equal. Designing a program that’s right for your institution can make the difference between a successful rewards program that drives greater card usage and spend, and one that fails to engage cardholders.

What are the elements of a successful rewards program and how should issuers evaluate different merchant offers platforms? These issues are explored in “Merchant Offers: The Future of Debit Rewards” – a whitepaper prepared by Oliver Wyman exclusively for PULSE participants that examines the emerging debit rewards environment and competing merchant offers programs.

New Debit Rewards Landscape
According to PULSE’s 2014 Debit Issuer Study, nearly a third of “regulated issuers” now participate in merchant offers programs. While new regulations and reduced interchange revenue made traditional issuer-funded rewards programs unsustainable, the rationale for debit rewards – promote card spend and differentiate the underlying checking account – is as compelling as ever.

Providing incentives to cardholders without the associated cost has proved appealing even to “exempt issuers” – 22 percent now provide cardholders with merchant offers. Done right, a merchant offers program can create a win-win-win:

  • Merchants generate incremental sales by targeting offers to the right perspective customers
  • Financial institutions provide a value-added benefit to cardholders at little cost to the issuer, while supporting top-of-wallet card positioning
  • Cardholders receive valuable discounts on the goods they like to buy

Because it is difficult for any single issuer to sign up enough merchants directly for a rewards program, most have turned to third-party providers that connect merchants and issuers and provide the algorithms to identify and target the right offers to the right cardholders.

Selecting the right partner is crucial, and these are a few factors to consider in evaluating different merchant offers platforms and program design options:

  • How large is the network of merchants? Smaller issuers will have a regional or local footprint that makes localized offers more appealing to cardholders.
  • How do consumers receive the rewards? Mobile banking applications are becoming a common channel for rewards offers and allow for location-based targeting of offers.
  • How will your financial institution market the program? Simply creating a program isn’t enough – an effective marketing effort is essential to drive cardholder participation.

Program With Proven Results

In short, selecting a partner with the right technical skills and merchant relationships, as well as the ability to guide the issuer through the various program decisions, is the key to a successful rewards program.

On vital metrics such as cardholder engagement, merchant participation and driving incremental per-card revenue, the PULSE® Buzz Points™ platform has demonstrated market-leading results for both large and small issuers.

PULSE has worked with Buzz Points since 2012 to offer a turn-key merchant offers solution to network participants and in 2014, after successful marketplace outcomes, PULSE became a strategic investor in Buzz Points through DFS Services LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Discover Financial Services.

Buzz Points’ success rests on delivering superior cardholder experience and the program enjoys a much higher cardholder engagement rate than competitors. With an average of 4.8 payment cards in their wallets, consumers need a compelling reason to change their payment habits, and Buzz Points has proven bottom-line results:

  • $8 in additional monthly revenue for each participating account
  • $350 in additional monthly spend per cardholder compared to non-Buzz Points users
  • 10 more transactions per month for participating cardholders

“That additional spend isn’t everyone getting raise, that’s people not using the other 3.8 payment products in their wallet,” said Jay Valanju, Buzz Points founder and senior vice president, during a recent webinar presentation to PULSE participants. “Our program actually encourages redemption of coupons and offers to drive cardholder satisfaction. We want the end-user to be happy with the experience.”

Buzz Points handles set-up, implementation and management of the program behind the scenes. The turn-key platform includes web and mobile delivery channels for offers, marketing support and a merchant sign-up campaign focusing on local businesses in an issuer’s geographic footprint.

Thanks to success in driving incremental sales for Buzz Points merchants – participating cardholders typically double their spending at local businesses – Buzz Points has been able to build strong merchant networks for each financial institution.

PULSE participants can learn more about Buzz Points and listen to Valanju’s presentation by logging in to the “Webinars & Webcasts” page in the Knowledge area of our website. Participants can also download the whitepaper “Merchant Offers: The Future of Debit Rewards” on the Insights & Research page.

PULSE Introduces New Logo and Acceptance Mark

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Streamlined Design Reflects Support for All Debit Transactions, Affiliation with Discover

PULSE Logo Image

PULSE has unveiled a new corporate logo and acceptance mark. The new, more contemporary look preserves many elements of PULSE’s original marks while also identifying the network more closely with our parent company, Discover Financial Services, by featuring the familiar Discover orange.

“PULSE and the debit landscape have both changed considerably in recent years, and it was time for our brand identity to reflect those changes,” said PULSE President Dave Schneider. “At the same time, millions of cardholders know to look for the familiar PULSE logo at the point-of-sale and on ATMs, so our new look builds upon our existing strong brand equity.”

In recent years, PULSE has expanded beyond PIN debit to support the processing of the full range of cardholder verification methods (CVMs), including PINless Bill Pay, Internet PIN Debit, signature, no-signature and no-CVM transactions in both single and dual-message environments. PULSE has also worked to advance new technologies such as mobile payments, EMV chip cards and tokenization.

New Look, Same Commitment

PULSE participants may begin using the new acceptance mark on cards, signage and other materials immediately. Participants may exhaust any current inventory of card stock, ATM and point-of-sale terminal signage or other printed materials using the old mark.

The new acceptance mark may be downloaded at www.pulsenetwork.com/mark. The mark should be used in accordance with the PULSE Graphic Standards Manual, also available on the website.

The logo redesign is the first in the company’s 30-year history, said Steve Sievert, PULSE executive vice president for marketing and communications.

“PULSE has changed. Nowhere is that change been more evident than PULSE’s acknowledgement that ‘debit is debit,’ through which the organization has aggressively adjusted its product portfolio to accommodate the market forces diminishing the differences between PIN and signature debit,” Sievert said.

PULSE’s corporate logo and acceptance mark may be changing, but our commitment to the success of our participants remains the same. By offering a full spectrum of debit solutions and superior client service, our focus is on helping our participants remain competitive in an increasingly complex environment.

Improving Financial Literacy One Teacher at a Time

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Discover Grant Supports IBAT’s Teach the Teacher Program

The need for financial literacy has never been greater. And, the learning process begins with educating teachers as a necessary first step to helping young people acquire the financial knowledge and skills they need to prepare for successful futures.

To aid in that effort, Discover and PULSE are helping to expand a unique program designed to help teachers throughout Texas improve financial literacy. The Teach the Teacher Program provides Texas middle and high school teachers the knowledge and confidence to teach financial education effectively. It was designed by the Independent Bankers Association of Texas (IBAT) Education Foundation in collaboration with teachers.

Focus on Teachers

Studies indicate Texas has a financial literacy problem. The 2012 National Financial Capability Study conducted by FINRA Investor Education Foundation shows that when asked five questions about basic economic and financial concepts, 67 percent of Texas adults could not answer more than three questions correctly.

Educating teachers is a necessary first step to eliminating gaps in financial literacy among young people. In the 2013-2014 school year, the IBAT Education Foundation’s Teach the Teacher program reached an estimated 60,000 students through the approximately 300 Texas educators who attended the training.

The teachers participated in weekend workshops, where they learned instructional methods to help students grasp the basics of debit cards, credit scores, identity theft, savings and investment strategies and other topics. For 2014, PULSE was proud to help fund stipends for hundreds of teachers who attended the training. PULSE was the founding sponsor of Teach the Teacher and has been involved in the program since its inception.

Discover’s Commitment

The program will promote financial literacy to even more Texas students in 2015 thanks to a $75,000 grant from PULSE’s parent company, Discover Financial Services. The grant is part of Discover’s $10 million investment to further financial education in public high schools across the country. PULSE is contributing an additional $25,000 to support the program in 2015.

“We believe that it is impossible to eliminate gaps in financial literacy among young people without first educating teachers,” said Steve Sievert, PULSE Executive Vice President of Marketing and Communications. “Discover is proud to support this critical initiative to provide training to teachers so that their students can gain a greater understanding of personal finance to plan for a brighter financial future.”

These investments in Teach the Teacher are part of Discover’s Pathway to Financial Success program, which is committed to helping the next generation get the financial education they need to make informed decisions about money through grants designed to train teachers, raise awareness of the need for financial education, and by providing additional resources to parents and schools.

ABA Endorsement Strengthens Signature Debit Competition


Momentum Behind Discover Debit Means More Choice For Issuers

Competition and choice are essential to a healthy market, and the signature debit space is no exception. However, limited choice in a market traditionally dominated by two providers has exacerbated an already challenging debit environment for financial institutions.

Issuers benefit from increased competition in the signature debit market. That’s why the recent endorsement of Discover Debit by the American Bankers Association – through its subsidiary the Corporation for American Banking – as the signature debit brand of choice for its members is a positive development for all financial institutions.

The ABA endorsement shines a spotlight on this alternative to the status quo providers, one that offers superior value to issuers of all sizes.

“Our members are fast realizing that Discover Debit delivers the same acceptance as the other networks at a much lower cost to the issuer,” said William Kroll, executive vice president at the ABA. “The program’s straightforward billing, ease of use and lower network fees makes this a significant alternative for ABA members and is good for the banking industry as a whole.”

Continued Challenges

The ABA’s endorsement of Discover Debit as an option to the traditional signature networks comes at a time when changes occurring in debit are posing challenges for financial institutions and squeezing the profitability of their debit programs.

Regulations capping interchange fees for large institutions and mandating merchant control of transaction routing have led to reductions in interchange revenue for issuers large and small. In addition, new mandates by the traditional signature providers have resulted in the routing of PIN transactions to those networks rather than the issuer’s chosen PIN network. Because of these mandates, issuers are less able to optimize their network relationships.

In addition to regulatory pressures and anti-competitive mandates, recent high-profile data breaches and the cost of fraud to financial institutions have made payments security a top priority. And with financial institutions already contemplating card reissuance as they transition to EMV, there are more reasons than ever to reassess debit programs.

While issuers grapple with a changing payments landscape, consumer preference for paying with debit means this offering remains a strategic focus for banks and credit unions. As the primary customer touch point for financial institutions, debit is issuers’ doorway to growing relationships with account holders.

Issuer Choice

Addressing these challenges requires a competitive signature debit market where issuers get choices instead of mandates. In a space long overdue for disruption, the ABA’s high-profile endorsement of Discover Debit lends new prominence to the program – one that puts issuers’ needs first.

The Discover Debit approach is built on four principles:

  • Improved profitability through competitive interchange and lower fees
  • Simplified operating rules and fee transparency
  • Comprehensive fraud mitigation, featuring real-time alerting and authorization blocking
  • Unmatched program flexibility allowing issuers to feature their own brands

When a financial institution switches to Discover Debit, it gains an experienced provider that works to guide the implementation and reissue process, including marketing support designed to increase card activation and usage.

Plan Ahead for Fraud Incident Response


PULSE Fraud Expert Describes Six Essential Elements of a Fraud Incident Response Plan


Does your financial institution have a plan to guide its response to fraud incidents? A plan provides a framework for making critical business decisions in the midst of uncertainty and chaos, which are hallmarks of a fraud attack.

Six months after major retail holiday data breaches, Eric Lillard, PULSE Vice President, Fraud and Risk Management, says the time is right to put plans in place because additional attacks are inevitable.

“Over the next couple years, the risk of events like the recent data breaches is going to continue to be a challenge to the industry,” said Lillard.

Fraud Incident Response Plan

Lillard says every financial institution needs a Fraud Incident Response Plan to provide structure and rational thinking during the stress and anxiety that accompanies these events. Essential elements of a Fraud Incident Response Plan include:

  1. Profiles of your transaction-level activity to aid in the rule strategy development process;
  2. Contact information for all process participants, including internal and external departments, vendors, decision makers, approvers, etc.
  3. A clear understanding of your organization’s rule strategy approval process;
  4. An accurate inventory of all fraud strategies currently in place within your financial institution;
  5. An understanding of known gaps or risks that you may have in your fraud mitigation program to help reduce surprises during the heat of the battle, and, where possible, identify potential solutions to those gaps;
  6. Lastly, recognizing that fraud never sleeps, documentation of the hours of operation that your fraud service provider (internal or external) is available.

Communications Program

Lillard recommends establishing an effective communications program to keep cardholders informed about emerging threats.

“Having the ability to communicate effectively and quickly with your cardholders is invaluable,” he said. “Financial institutions should be diligent in their efforts in communicating with their customers about fraud.”

Recognizing that various forms of phishing attacks often follow breaches, Lillard recommends reinforcing the basics in communications to cardholders, such as your policy regarding disclosure of account information and PINs.

Finally, financial institutions need to assess their fraud mitigation tools, systems and resources. PULSE offers DebitProtect®, a sophisticated fraud mitigation service that evaluates debit card transactions in milliseconds, detects fraudulent behavior and can block suspected fraudulent activity before a transaction is approved. As of April 2014, the authorization blocking service had blocked more than 4,000 attempted fraud transactions, saving financial institutions more than $1 million. For more information, visit DebitProtect.

EMV’s Great Tipping Point


Data Breaches Make EMV Migration a Priority


We are on the cusp of entering the age of EMV implementation in the U.S., according to the 2014 Debit Issuer Study commissioned by PULSE. After years of uncertainty and delay, the vast majority of debit card issuers now say they plan to issue EMV cards in the next two years.

Migration to EMV debit cards will begin in earnest in early 2015 and will span approximately three years, with many issuers attempting to provide chip cards to their international travelers and heavy debit users in advance of the liability shift in October 2015.

This year’s Debit Issuer Study found tremendous impacts from merchant data breaches, including a collective acceptance that EMV migration will provide enhanced security.

  • Large banks are leading the way, with 96 percent planning to begin issuing EMV cards by the end of 2015.
  • Credit unions and community banks aren’t far behind, with 83 percent of credit unions and 78 percent of community banks targeting 2015 for EMV migration.
  • The 86 percent of respondents who said they expect to issue EMV cards in the next two years is a significant increase from 50 percent in 2012.

“This year’s study confirms the industry has come together to look for solutions to increase security and advance EMV implementation,” said Steve Sievert, Executive Vice President of Marketing and Communications for PULSE.

Fraud Trumps EMV Concerns

Concerns about EMV haven’t gone away. Prior to last year’s high-profile data breaches, many financial institutions were hesitant to commit to EMV. The concerns centered around matters of logistics and expense:

  • Uncertainty around merchant adoption of chip card point-of-sale terminals;
  • Questions about the viability of the business case for migrating from magnetic stripe to chip;
  • Issues related to regulation and support for merchant routing choice.

Today, there is greater urgency to resolve these issues because further delays in EMV migration may put issuers at greater risk. In addition, a series of agreements between signature and PIN debit networks has created a pathway for resolving the merchant routing issue.

At a tactical level, the most common approach among financial institutions is to provide account holders with an EMV debit card as part of their regular card reissuance cycle.

The Debit Issuer Study, conducted by Oliver Wyman, examines debit card issuer performance and expectations for the debit card business. This was the ninth installment in the study series. A total of 71 financial institutions participated, including large banks, credit unions and community banks. Collectively, study participants issue approximately 142 million debit cards, representing approximately 45 percent of total U.S. debit transactions.

PULSE participants can learn more about the study at www.pulsenetwork.com and listen to a PULSE Academy® webinar presenting key survey findings by accessing the “Webinars & Webcasts” page in the Knowledge area of our website.

PULSE Marketing Recognized for Helping Issuers Launch Debit Programs


AMA Houston names PULSE top financial services marketer

Standing by our participants as an advocate for their interests has always been a guiding principle for PULSE. Recently, that has included using the company’s expertise in marketing to help financial institutions convert their debit portfolios.

This commitment to advancing clients’ brands, rather than our own, earned recognition from the American Marketing Association Houston chapter (AMA) and PULSE was named 2013 Marketer of the Year in financial services.

PULSE’s winning program was designed to provide marketing support to financial institutions that convert to Discover® Debit. To assist in the transition, PULSE offers Discover Debit issuers marketing services and materials to support each stage of the program conversion. PULSE facilitates virtually all of the marketing campaign, from planning and design to execution and measurement.

In 2013, Cadence Bank was the first financial institution to launch the new Discover Debit program with PULSE marketing support. PULSE created a comprehensive marketing and communications campaign, including the new debit card design, product videos, call-center training, website content and a customized, dimensional card mailer to launch the employee pilot phase of the debit card rollout.

Marketing That Drives Results for Issuers

PULSE’s strategic, data-driven marketing effort on behalf of Cadence won the recognition of Houston’s marketing community, but more importantly, yielded bottom-line results for Cadence.

On key measures of activation and usage, the launch of Cadence’s new debit card program was a success—Cadence saw an increase in debit card volume and debit card activation was higher than the industry average.

This commitment to building the client’s brand earned the PULSE marketing team the top honors in the financial services category, presented at the AMA Houston’s annual award ceremony in March.

PULSE Expands Marketing Service

Now, PULSE’s marketing experts are branching out, offering their deep expertise in debit to other PULSE participants as part of a new consultancy called PULSE InSightsSM. Amid today’s landscape of debit regulation and squeezed margins, many issuers are finding it more challenging than ever to devote resources to marketing their debit card programs.

Yet, debit remains the most frequent touch point consumers have with their financial institution. To help issuers get the most out of their debit programs, PULSE InSights provides full-service marketing support—from formulating strategies to executing campaigns and tracking results.

Just as they are doing for Discover Debit issuers, the PULSE marketing team will devise a marketing plan tailored to the needs of each financial institution and implement campaigns that resonate with customers.

Marketing support is just one component of the suite of consultative services PULSE InSights provides, which also include Card Portfolio Optimization, Contact Center Optimization, Retail Branch Maximization and Customer Experience.