In the midst of the fallout from last week’s deadly school shooting, First National Bank of Omaha found itself in the middle of a social media backlash: Some people were calling out the bank’s relationship with the National Rifle Association.
The bank issues “co-branded” credit cards with the NRA — First National cards emblazoned with the NRA logo. Recent ads beckoned people to “Carry the Official Credit Card of the NRA” and offered a $40 statement credit.
On Thursday, First National, the country’s largest privately held bank, with about $20 billion in assets, said it would stop issuing NRA-branded cards.
First National spokesman Kevin Langin told The World-Herald that “customer feedback” caused the bank to review its dealings with the NRA. After the review, Langin said, the bank decided that it is “not going to renew the contract” to issue the NRA cards. He wouldn’t say when the contract was set to expire.
The bank’s move Thursday came after it found itself on a list earlier this week of businesses that do business with the NRA. The list sparked a sharp reaction among gun-control advocates and others on social media.
“This would be a good company to boycott,” one Twitter user said about First National. “Call & say, ‘Cancel my Visa Card Now!’ ” another said. “I will not be doing business with First National Bank,” said another.
By Thursday afternoon, the bank posted a note on its own social media pages that Langin verified as accurate: “Customer feedback has caused us to review our relationship with the NRA,” the statement said. “As a result, First National Bank of Omaha will not renew its contract with the National Rifle Association to issue the NRA Visa Card.”
The NRA didn’t respond to a telephone request for comment when contacted by The World-Herald.
Rod Moeller, the director of government affairs for the Nebraska Firearms Owners Association, said that after the severing of the NRA relationship, gun owners with First National accounts “will be giving strong consideration to moving their accounts to a bank that hasn’t bowed to political pressure.”
Of course, others praised the bank. “Excellent! I won’t have to cancel my card,” one Twitter user said. Left-leaning news website HuffPost called the bank’s move a “national moment of reckoning over gun control.”
Dan Parsons, chief executive officer of Parsons Public Relations in Lincoln, said it appeared to him that the bank was unprepared for the flood of feedback. In the social media age, people have a voice that is magnified many times over if a cause or situation catches fire with the broader public — think the United Airlines passenger who was injured when kicked off a flight or the #MeToo movement.
“This is capturing the attention of the nation, with the emotional testimony and reaction from the Florida situation,” Parsons said.
Matt Schulz, senior industry analyst for Creditcards.com, said that in the long run, after the social media uproar on both sides dies down, the bank will be just fine.
“It will cause some social media buzz, both with people applauding it and with people decrying it,” he said. “But ultimately, it seems that First National Bank made the decision that this move is going to be worth doing in the long term.”
First National is one of the country’s 15 largest issuers of credit cards. It issues the NRA cards, which offer special benefits to cardholders like 5 percent cash back on gas and sporting goods purchases.
Typically, as part of co-branded card agreements, organizations like the NRA receive a financial benefit for introducing its members to a bank. As for how such relationships can benefit a bank, Schulz said banks can reach new audiences through co-branded cards: A die-hard NRA member might always grab his NRA card when making a purchase, for instance.
Still, there is some risk for a bank to associate with an organization — especially an “affinity” organization like the NRA or another politically connected group, he said. Some people are going to support the connection; others, of course, aren’t.
Less controversial are the cards First National issues under the Scheels All Sports, Chrysler and Best Western brands, among many others.
The bank wouldn’t disclose details about its relationship with the NRA, including when it was first established, what financial terms exist or the number of NRA-brand cardholders.
World-Herald staff writers Paige Yowell and Barbara Soderlin contributed to this report.
Customer feedback has caused us to review our relationship with the NRA. As a result, First National Bank of Omaha will not renew its contract with the National Rifle Association to issue the NRA Visa Card.— First National Bank (@FNBOmaha) February 22, 2018