After a bruising fight over its Aeroplan credit card accounts, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce investors couldn't help but worry that the bank was tripping up.
By selling half its Aeroplan portfolio to TD, CIBC quickly parted ways with a business that contributed roughly 5.5 per cent of its annual earnings. At the very same time, the bank pledged to spend $50-million to market a revamped Aventura travel rewards card, for which success was anything but guaranteed.
Early results suggest investors don't have much reason to fret. CIBC just had its best quarter for adding travel-reward-card clients in a decade – a rather impressive feat given the current competition for cardholders. Rival banks and financial institutions are also spending heavily to lure Canadians to their own travel-reward cards.
"The fact that inside that environment we've had the best sales quarter in a long time is causing us to feel good," retail banking head David Williamson said on a conference call.
So far, CIBC's success stems from attracting clients to its Aventura card, which allows cardholders to use their points on any carrier. The Aeroplan account growth, however, suffered until very recently. (CIBC can still offer Aeroplan cards, even though Toronto-Dominion Bank is the primary issuer that advertises its name alongside Aeroplan's.)
"Through the end of the calendar year last year, [Aeroplan] sales weren't what we were looking for," Mr. Williamson said, adding that the bank is starting to turn that trend around.
It will take some time to determine whether CIBC will be able to replicate its old Aeroplan earnings. While the bank is starting to win new cardholders, replacing those who left, many of these clients come with big "sunk" costs. To lure them, the bank has to offer big travel reward bonuses simply for signing up, and to also often waive the first annual fee.
"What we need to track is how those new card relationships develop," Mr. Williamson said. Anybody can sign up to get the bonus points, especially if they don't have to pay any fees during the first 12 months. Turning these clients into long-term cardholders is the real challenge.