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Want fries with that bank statement?

In your online statements, banks are inserting targeted ads from companies you patronize. Is that an invasion of privacy or an efficient way to get coupons?

By Teresa Mears Jan 17, 2011 1:21PM

Your bank statement is the last place you expect to be asked "Do you want fries with that?"

But McDonald's is among a number of retailers who are now advertising in online bank statements. They may not just suggest you get fries on your next visit, they'll offer you 10% cash back, with the clickable "coupon" going right on your debit card. You may get the same offer from McDonald's if you've used your debit card to charge a meal at Burger King.


The banks see the advertising money as a way to replace revenue lost by new rules on interchange fees and as a substitute for rewards programs that cost them money. The merchants like the ads because they can target customers who are interested in their products.

The online advertising in bank statements is yet another twist on targeted advertising, which delivers ads to customers based on past behavior. If you have no charges at fast-food restaurants, you won't be offered McDonald's coupons.

This is how Ylan Q. Mui of The Washington Post explains the issue:

Online banking is the latest frontier in the controversial field known as behavioral marketing, in which detailed personal information is used to target advertising. Consumer groups have decried the practice as an invasion of privacy, particularly since users often do not realize who has access to the most intimate details of their lives.

Banks say customers' personal data isn't shared with marketers, and customers can opt not to see the ads in their bank statements.

Cardlytics, the company that supplies the ads to banks, sees its marketing as less invasive than the typical Internet marketing, which collects "cookies" from Internet browsing.

"We don't cookie customers and follow them around the Web," Meghan Keane of the Econsultancy blog quoted Hans Theisen, chief revenue officer, as telling Advertising Age. "It's less infringing upon a customer's privacy than many behavioral-targeting companies."

Participating banks and merchants, which include Macy's and Staples as well as McDonald's, like the program, Cardlytics CEO Scott Grimes told the Post, and customers are responding. The company is rolling out a mobile version.

When McDonald's inserted an ad in bank statements in Houston, almost 20% of customers who had eaten at another fast-food restaurant took McDonald's up on its offer for 10% cash back on their next purchase at McDonald's. Among customers who had spent $75 or more at fast-food restaurants in three months, 60% activated the offer, the Post reported.

What do you think? Would you like to see "coupons" from businesses you patronize on your electronic bank statements? Or do you think that this kind of targeted advertising requires sacrificing too much privacy?


More from MSN Money:


Jan 18, 2011 4:40PM
I don't necessarily mind seeing a banner ad or two on the webpage that shows my account data, but these ads aren't always well behaved from a privacy standpoint. Is data on how often I check my account balance, how much money I keep in my account, what my direct deposit amounts are, etc. going to be used for demographic targeting of ads? 

I imagine that data would be highly valuable for purposes of ad targeting, but I want it 100% firewalled off from any 3rd party ad sites, even if it's supposed to be used anonymously. 

I know the article said they don't use personal data, but does that mean that nothing about the user's demographic is used to choose which ad to deliver? Or only that they don't pass personally-identifiable data to the ad server, but that they do pass some parameters related to demographic groups?
Jan 18, 2011 1:45AM
Most of the coupons don't even work unless you use good websites some of them Printapons retail me not etc, so do some research before you buy anything!
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