FNB eBucks: take it or leave it

While some banking customers have taken issue with opt-in marketing for FNB‘s rewards programme, the bank insists its methods are for a “win-win” rewards experience.

In July 2012, FNB restructured its eBucks reward programme to include a marketing clause which required banking customers on certain accounts to “opt-in” to the bank’s marketing in order to continue earning eBucks.

The move was met with a critical response from consumers and media, who felt that the bank was “blackmailing” customers into receiving marketing.

With FNB’s eBucks rewards programme, banking customers who opt-in for marketing can earn up to 2.5% back in eBucks rewards on purchases, and up to 15% on qualifying fuel or airtime purchases.

The amount of eBucks earned is dependant on a number of factors that hinge on spending habits, and account variables.

Echoed disdain

When moving his bond over to FNB, Zoopy founder and former CEO, Jason Elk was presented with new terms and conditions relating directly to FNB’s rewards programme, which caused him to take exception.

Elk voiced his concerns in a blog post, titled “FNB, what on earth are you doing to your customers?”

In the post, Elk described the situation where, upon applying to move his bond over to FNB, he was presented with a document that FNB insisted he sign before the bond switching process could be completed.

Opt-in to marketing, via Jasonelk.com

The document states clearly that, should customers decline opting into marketing from FNB, they would forfeit participation in all current and future rewards programmes – as per the restructured terms and conditions.

Elk was vocal in his disapproval of the situation:

I’m switching my bond account to FNB, adding the biggest asset I own to my existing portfolio that includes my car, credit facilities, call accounts, savings accounts, cheque accounts, cards and other accounts and services – and because I don’t want to receive marketing messages I will be excluded from eBucks and other rewards immediately and in the future?

So instead of rewarding me further, I’m being punished for bringing even more business to the bank. Not the “do more” bank I thought I knew.

True to form, the social network-savvy FNB CEO, Michael Jordaan – as well as the bank’s faceless spokesperson, RB Jacobs – took to Twitter to respond to Elk’s concerns.

“We just want to talk”

Jordaan reponded to Elk, saying that the bank “would just like to communicate with you. Part of building relationships is communication.”

Jordaan clarified that, in order to earn eBucks, marketing consent was required across the bank’s offerings, not just bonds, saying further that communication was important for the bank. “We want to talk to our customers,” he tweeted.

“[The] idea is to inform you when we think we can add value; say, switch to email statements, or avoid fees. Not blanket marketing.”

Jordaan added that, by keeping rewards from customers who opt-out of marketing, the bank wasn’t penalising customers: “eBucks is a reward on top of normal product benefits,” he said.

Michael Jordaan’s response to Jason Elk

Legal consent?

The buzz surrounding FNB’s marketing consent clause to its rewards program also drew the attention of web and digital media lawyer, Paul Jacobson, who believes the bank may have a problem with its permission methods.

BusinessTech was told by another legal source that from a purely legal stand-point it would seem that there was nothing explicily illegal with the way FNB’s conditions were presented or worded.

An argument could be made against the current form of the clause in terms of sections 11 and 51 of the Consumer Protection Act (which refers to the “right to restrict unwanted direct marketing” and “prohibited transactions, agreements, terms or conditions”, respectively) – however, this argument was described as  weak.

According to FNB, its customer consent policy has been aligned to the principles contained in the Protection of Personal Information (POPI) Bill, as well as the Consumer Protection Act.

However, irrespective of current standings, the Protection of Personal Information Bill will likely have an impact on instances such as these, once it is passed.

According to an extensive post on Jacobson’s Web.Tech.Law blog, that is where FNB’s main issue may lie.

In terms of the POPI Bill, “consent” is defined as follows:

any voluntary, specific and informed expression of will in terms of which permission is given for the processing of personal information

“The key terms here are ‘voluntary, specific and informed’,” Jacobson said. “This means that a consent given in terms of the Protection of Personal Information Act can’t be a “dumb” consent.”

“The person giving the consent has to clearly understand what he or she is consenting to, must be consenting to that action voluntarily (in other words, without that consent being coerced) and that consent must be fairly focused on particular activities that the person is informed about,” he said.

Take it or leave it

Speaking in response to the claims brought to its door, FNB said simply that its marketing communication is there in order to ensure the sustainability of the rewards offers.

“It is vital that the bank can establish a ‘win/win’ relationship with the customers – a key part of this is being able to communicate to customers and effectively manage the banking relationship, and marketing consent provides this access.”

The marketing communications in question contain “mainly new offers from within FNB,” the bank said.

“Sending client communication can be costly, so we ensure that offers are targeted and relevant to the client’s financial/banking needs, lifestyle and lifestage,” FNB said.

FNB also said that customers who opt out of marketing would still retain their accrued eBucks, and could continue to earn eBucks from accounts that did not require marketing consent.

“Further, eBucks members will continue to earn from partners (such as Makro and Dis-Chem Pharmacies) even if they do not have an FNB account, or RMB Private Bank account,” it said.

Changes to the rewards programmes are made once a year on 1 July with annual pricing review, the bank said. This means the rewards structure will once again be reviewed in July 2013.

“If changes are required, clients will be advised in advance in line with the Code of Banking Practice.”

FNB said that it is receptive to client feedback regarding the rewards programmes, and that it monitors customer behaviour on an ongoing basis.

“This is then balanced with the business drivers to ensure that we create a ‘win/win’ solution when determining how the rewards are allocated.”

“However, participation in the rewards programme is voluntary. Clients are free to decide if they want to take part and can de-register at any time,” FNB said. (emphasis added)

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FNB eBucks: take it or leave it