One of the more high-handed moves in high finance this year has to be the deal worked out by two banks and the parent of the Aeroplan loyalty reward program.
After months of negotiations, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, Toronto-Dominion Bank and Aimia Inc. have a plan for dividing up the market for bank-issued credit cards linked to Aeroplan. Approximately half of CIBC's Aeroplan clients will be bought by TD, with the rest staying at CIBC. If you hold the very popular CIBC Aerogold Visa card, stand by for your marching orders. To date, the three players in this deal have been too busy cutting up the cash to say much to their customers.
"I realize there may not be full public information available as yet concerning this 'sale,' but from what I can gather it certainly looks as if I'm being treated like a commodity that's available to be sold to the right bidder," one Aerogold client wrote in an e-mail.
This individual does his banking at neither TD nor CIBC, but he has carried a CIBC Aerogold card for 20 years. When he called CIBC's Visa centre to ask what would happen to his account, he was told that people who have only an Aerogold card with CIBC will likely be sent over to TD to be part of its new Aeroplan-linked card.
"Nobody seemed to ask me (THE CUSTOMER) about how I felt or what was right for me," he wrote.
Banks are publicly traded companies and they have every right to buy, sell and deal to make money for shareholders. But they undermine themselves when they treat customers like an afterthought, thereby encouraging them to look elsewhere.
The e-mails I'm receiving from CIBC Aerogold customers suggest they're both confused and annoyed. One reader said he's a client of CIBC Wood Gundy – is that enough for CIBC to keep him or will he be packed off to TD? This is a practical question, not just idle musing about which bank's logo will be on the envelope containing his monthly credit card bill.
Like many people, this reader makes a number of automatic bill payments using his credit card. "Having to remember all those payments and change cards will be a real pain," he wrote. "Will I be forced into that or not?"
CIBC's response was to say all parties are working to make the transition easy on clients and that they will have more information to offer later this year. In general, though, Aerogold cardholders will be on the move to TD unless they have a broader banking relationship with CIBC.
At TD's end, there's a similar dearth of information on what will happen to CIBC cardholders who are coming over. The bank said in an e-mail that the transition will start in January, 2014, and that "cardholders can rest assured this transition will be easy." TD said it expects to have offers to welcome new cardholders, and that details will be made available when the cards become available.
Suggestion to TD: Waive the first year's annual fee so as to eliminate any issues with CIBC Aerogold cardholders who have already paid for the year.
With so many credit card customers in flux as a result of the CIBC-TD-Aimia deal, you can expect all cardholders to put their best face forward with special offers. For example, CIBC said it will enhance its Aventura "fly any airline" card, which offers an alternative to the Air Canada-focused Aerogold card.
American Express, another issuer of Aeroplan-linked credit cards, is currently offering to waive the first year's $120 annual fee for the Amex AeroplanPlus Gold card.
A welcome bonus of 20,000 Aeroplan points is available if you spend $500 on your card within the first three months after you receive it.
Advice to uncertain Aerogold customers: Sit tight for the next few months and see what TD or CIBC do to keep your business. At the same time, scan the wider market for other offers that may be of interest. The Rewards Canada website (rewardscanada.ca) is a good place to keep an eye on the offers out there.
One thing all Aeroplan cardholders need not worry about is their hoard of reward points. They reside with Aeroplan, not with credit card issuers.
Here's an edited transcript of CIBC's responses to my questions about what its Aerogold customers can expect in the months ahead:
How can CIBC Aerogold customers tell if their accounts will be moved?
- “It is primarily credit card accounts held by clients who hold only a credit card with CIBC that will be transitioning to TD. For CIBC clients with a broader banking relationship – nothing changes.”
When will the accounts headed to TD actually make the move?
- “Pending regulatory approval, the agreement is expected to close at the end of the year. It will take some time to roll out new cards to clients in 2014. For clarity, AeroClassic cards are not included in the agreement [with TD and Aimia Inc.]”
Will there be any changes to CIBC Aerogold cards for the CIBC credit card clients who stay with the bank?
- “We have not yet announced any changes to our Aerogold product for 2014, but clients can look forward to a strong lineup of features and benefits they’ve come to expect from their CIBC Aerogold card.”
What happens if I paid my annual Aerogold card fee recently?
- “Any annual fee already paid on a CIBC Aerogold credit card will be applied if it remains with CIBC, or as part of a transition would be automatically applied to a new TD co-branded credit card.”