CIBC trying to retain half of Aerogold customers as Aimia picks TD

CIBC says it is willing to let TD Bank become the primary credit card issuer for the Aeroplan loyalty rewards program, as long as it’s allowed to keep half of the current Aerogold customers.

The two rival banks and Aeroplan operator Aimia Inc. (TSX:AIM) have agreed to continue talks and are aiming to have a definitive compromise by Aug. 26, about 2 1/2 weeks after an Aug. 9 deadline for CIBC to match TD’s offer.

CIBC (TSX:CM) said Monday that it’s willing to have TD buy the half of the Aerogold portfolio whose clients only have credit cards to collect extra miles.

A complete shift to TD would mark the end of a two-decade relationship between Aimia and CIBC. Aeroplan, which originated as Air Canada’s frequent flyer program, is now part of a broader international loyalty system operated by Aimia.

CIBC has said previously the proposed deal between Aimia and TD Bank (TSX:TD) fails to honour the existing 10-year credit card agreement which expires Dec. 31. CIBC argues that Aimia’s deal with TD was structured in a way that “nullifies CIBC’s right of first refusal and ability to match.”

“In the event an agreement is not reached, CIBC retains its rights to exercise its legal options under the provisions of its existing contract with Aimia,” CIBC said in a news release Monday.

Montreal-based Aimia says CIBC’s assertion is “without merit” and it is prepared to “vigorously defend” itself from any claim made by CIBC.

However, it said the three parties will “work vigorously to try to reach an agreement, complete due diligence and finalize definitive documentation” within two weeks.

“We are delighted to confirm TD as our new financial credit card partner,” said Aimia CEO Rupert Duchesne.

“TD is a leading financial institution with a strong Canadian retail and global banking franchise that shares our customer-centric vision for Aeroplan and that is committed to building the program with us. We are confident that the strength of the transformed Aeroplan program will drive increased engagement and market share among premium Canadian consumers.”

The company said CIBC cardholders can continue to earn miles for the remainder of the year and that all Aeroplan miles are deposited into their accounts regardless which of the credit cards is used.

Aimia announced the credit card change before reporting a second-quarter net loss of $415.2 million or $2.43 per share, compared to $35 million or 19 cents per share a year ago.

The company said a change in the breakage estimate for the Aeroplan program resulted in a $663.6 million hit to revenue.

Excluding the change in the breakage estimate and several other items, revenue for the quarter was $540.3 million, up from $7.1 million a year ago.

TD, parent of TD Canada Trust as well as a U.S. retail banking network, said it will offer Aeroplan customers more choice and grow its premium travel segment.

“The co-branded Aeroplan credit cards will complement TD’s already strong lineup of cards, and allow our customers to select from an even wider range of options for earning great travel rewards,” said Michael Rhodes, executive vice-president of the company’s North American credit card division.

With TD, Aeroplan Visa holders would be able to select from three levels of credit cards — enhanced premium, premium and mid-market — each with different benefits and mile earn rates. TD said it expects to provide a credit card for U.S. residents and a credit card for Canadian small business owners.

TD has said the Aeroplan arrangement would not have a material impact on its 2014 earnings but would make “a solid contribution to 2015 earnings.” The deal calls for TD to make a $100-million up front payment to Aimia in 2014.

John Aiken of Barclays Capital described CIBC’s offer to sell customers who only have Aerogold credit cards to TD a “common sense” approach that should benefit both Canadian banks.

“We believe that this should defray some of the retention costs anticipated to be incurred by CIBC as it can focus on retaining the customers it has a more fulsome relationship with,” he wrote in a report.

“For TD, it alleviates some of the risk that current Aeroplan cardholders will move to an alternative platform as it will likely make the transition much more seamless.”

Aiken doesn’t believe the sale will reap a significant premium because TD likely believes it can successfully convince those Aeroplan Visa customers to switch providers.

CIBC hasn’t disclosed the number of cardholders or the outstanding balances associated with its Aeroplan card.

“While we view the potential sale of this 50 per cent of the portfolio as an incremental positive, given that the likelihood of retention would have been a challenge, CIBC is still faced with the $50 million expenditure to develop the new card offering, with additional marketing and retention costs after the new cards are issued,” said Aiken.

“As well, the lost revenues from the potential portfolio sale will still weigh on the bottom line.”

Drew McReynolds of RBC Capital Markets added there would be “considerable uncertainty” about the outlook for Aeroplan if there is a prolonged legal battle.

The switch to TD will re-position Aeroplan for renewed growth over the medium term, but he said transition risk remains until terms of the potential deal among the three parties are announced.

Brad Smith of Stonecap Securities said the outcome of the dispute “remains cloudy” despite CIBC’s willingness to sell customers with only Aerogold cards.

“While we appreciate management’s efforts to retain as many card customer relationships as possible … we would not place a high probability on a successful outcome given that access to the multi-product customer data was likely a major focus for TD in negotiating their agreement with Aimia,” he wrote in a report.

He said the kerfuffle between CIBC and Aimia underscores how slowing domestic spending is escalating competition among Canada’s leading banks.

On the Toronto Stock Exchange, Aimia’s shares closed up more than four per cent, gaining 63 cents to $15.93 in Monday trading. CIBC shares were up $1.56 to $78.47 while TD stock lost 25 cents to $86.41.