Return to Sender: Credit Card Offers Are on the Rise

05/05/2011 08:38 pm ET | Updated Jul 05, 2011
  • Todd Paglia Executive Director, Stand.Earth (formerly ForestEthics)

Last week, the world's largest credit card companies descended on Miami for the 23rd annual Card Forum & Expo. On the agenda for American Express, Chase and other collectors and pushers of the world's debt were a bevy of credit card industry insider topics such as 'Prepaid and Traditional Debit: What's the Difference?' and 'Key Insights on the U.S. Affluent.'

Not on the agenda? Millions of regular Americans who rank the credit card industry among the worst junk mailers -- and opportunists -- out there.

Americans like Martha, a California farmer who recently reached out to ForestEthics' anti-junk mail campaign with an urgent plea to help stop the junk mail deluge in her mailbox, mostly from Chase and American Express.

"...I began receiving mailings from Chase sometime last year," wrote Martha. "When they became frequent and irritating (numerous per week, sometimes two at a time), I began saving them, and sent the accumulated mailings back to Chase with a letter stating my exasperation ... and demanding that the mailings stop ... You can imagine my astonishment and anger when, last week, I received two more mailings from Chase."

Unfortunately, Martha's case is far from unique. Stopping the tide of junk mail at your door can feel virtually impossible. And it's not just your imagination that the pile of credit card offers is growing: as America digs out of the Great Recession, junk mail credit card offers are on the rise. In just the last three months of 2010, companies mailed 1.4 billion offers, a 154 percent jump since the same period one year earlier (reported in "Three Issuers' Mailings Dominated 2010 Q4 Card Solicitations": Mintel, 4/4/11, PaymentsSource).

Who are the biggest junk mailers? Chase and American Express are among the most prolific purveyors of destructive direct mail. Along with Citigroup, these companies were responsible for more than half of all credit card offers sent in the mail in the fourth quarter of 2010.

More than a nuisance, junk mail is an invasion of privacy, and a huge waste of one of our most important friends: forests. Forests clean our air and water, provide life-saving medicine, and act as a home to innumerable species, including the kind that likes a cup of coffee in the morning and a walk on the beach.

To add insult to injury, the typical credit card offer response rate is around 0.25-0.5 percent. That means for every 200 to 400 pieces of direct mail these companies send to prospective customers, only one person will actually apply for a new card. And we're destroying North America's endangered forests for this?

It doesn't have to be this way. Companies can do responsible and effective marketing without using invasive, unwanted direct mail. They can also demonstrate forest protection leadership by decreasing overall paper consumption, maximizing the use of post-consumer recycled fiber, and utilizing only credible forest certification schemes (i.e. Forest Stewardship Council) for the virgin fiber in their paper.

As the credit card junk mailers gathered with their industry colleagues along the azure waters of Miami Beach, they ought to have minded the rising tide. And no, not just oceans swelling as a result of global climate change -- partly a byproduct of deforestation and paper-related carbon emissions.

More than ever, they should be paying close attention to the rising tide of anger among ordinary Americans like Martha who refuse to accept the invasion of privacy and forest destruction delivered to their mailboxes every day.