Small-business credit card satisfaction surges

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Small-business credit card users felt much better about their cards in 2021, according to the J.D. Power 2021 U.S. Small Business Credit Card Satisfaction Study. The organization says overall satisfaction among small business credit card customers averages 852 (on a 1,000-point scale). That’s 12 points higher than in 2020 and three points better than in 2019.

The winners

American Express, Capital One and Discover tied for the top spot with 864 points. Capital One made a big jump, improving from fourth place (842) last year and fifth place (847) two years ago.

American Express and Discover have historically dominated J.D. Power’s consumer credit card satisfaction ratings, having placed first and second in all 15 editions (Amex has 11 wins, and Discover has five, including a tie in 2014).

J.D. Power has only published small-business credit card rankings for the past three years. Discover won in 2019 with 878 points, and American Express was second with 862. Last year, Discover defended its title, albeit by a smaller margin (867 to 861, with Amex in the runner-up spot once again).

For the most part, small-business credit cardholders are more satisfied with their cards than consumer credit card holders. Industry-wide, the average satisfaction scores are 852 for small-business cardholders and 809 for consumer cardholders.

“The strongest drivers of small-business customer satisfaction with credit cards is a strong alignment between specific business needs and individual card benefit,” John Cabell, director of wealth and lending intelligence at J.D. Power, said in a news release.

“We saw the dark side of that phenomenon during the height of the pandemic when many customers were more frustrated with fees and credit limits and not able to take advantage of card benefits. Now, as the outlook is starting to improve for many small businesses, airline cards—as well as retail cards and bank brand cards—are starting to play a major role in the customer rewards satisfaction equation,” he added.

What drove the increase

J.D. Power notes that small-business credit card satisfaction rose across nearly every category in 2021, with airline rewards notching the largest increase. That’s a bit surprising because, even though travel has picked up throughout the year, widespread reports indicate that business travel is rebounding much more slowly than leisure travel. Still, reduced travel is better than no travel. And complaints about canceled travel likely dragged satisfaction down in 2020, making for a clearer uptick in 2021.

Another bright spot in 2021, according to J.D. Power, was personalization. “When card issuers proactively provide the technology and resources that small businesses need, such as customized reporting, account management support and guidance on rewards and benefits, customers perceive more value from their cards by paying their balance every month, redeeming rewards and using benefits available to them,” the firm wrote.

This speaks to the versatility that many card issuers have emphasized throughout the pandemic, such as Chase’s Pay Yourself Back. The program has allowed cardholders to redeem their Ultimate Rewards points for everyday expenses at higher valuations previously reserved solely for travel. Business friendly examples include social media and search engine advertising purchases as well as shipping, internet, cable and phone services.

The Business Platinum Card® from American Express also added several business-friendly statement credit opportunities—offsetting certain recruiting, cellphone and computing costs—and a higher earn rate on select business expenditures (although it also raised the card’s annual fee).

What didn’t go as well

Card issuers’ involvement with the Paycheck Protection Program was “a double-edged sword,” J.D. Power reports. On average, a small business that applied for a PPP loan from the same financial institution that issued it a small-business credit card gave a credit card satisfaction score of 871 if they received the PPP loan but just 774 if they were denied.

The bottom line

In 2020, many small business owners lamented that credit card fees, interest and customer service snafus made it harder for them to overcome problems related to COVID-19, such as lower sales and canceled trips. But in 2021, the picture brightened considerably, as credit card rewards programs proved more useful and issuers unveiled new benefits that better aligned with their needs.

Have a question about credit cards? E-mail me at ted.rossman@bankrate.com and I’d be happy to help.