Why One-Size-Fits-All Marketing Approach Doesn’t Work With HSAs

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Even as health savings accounts (HSAs) continue to see double digit year-over-year growth, many financial organizations are reluctant to offer, or even see the value of offering, HSAs. On the surface, it appears that HSAs are just “spending” accounts that offer limited value for the amount of work they are to administer. Dig deeper into the HSA market and you’ll find that not all HSA owners are the same.

We’ve identified four types of HSA owners who use their accounts differently: the FSA user, HSA user, HSA saver, and HSA investor. Understanding these personas is the key to better positioning your organization to attract and retain HSA owners and help grow your business. The FSA user and the HSA user benefit most from early HSA education to maximize their savings potential. The HSA saver and HSA investor tend to accumulate large balances and already recognize the importance of maximizing their HSA savings potential.

FSA User

Many individuals have common misconceptions about HSAs. One misconception is that HSAs are just like flexible spending arrangements (FSAs). Those who use an HSA as they would their FSA could be identified as FSA users. They only contribute what they plan to spend within the year (or only what their employer contributes to their HSA for the year) and then they use it all by the end of that year. Often these individuals do not have much disposable income to put in their HSAs.

You may be quick to dismiss this cohort, as their “revolving door” transactions can cause more work and their account balances generally see no year over year growth. But it would be unwise to dismiss them all together, as their debit card transactions actually generate revenue for your organization (if your program uses debit cards). It is also probable that they need other financial services.

HSA User

Those who know more about HSAs and realize that HSAs do not have a “use-it-or-lose-it” provision could be identified as HSA users. They use their HSAs for all of their qualified medical expenses, but they contribute more than FSA users, leaving some money in the HSA, resulting in marginal year over year growth. Like FSA users, this cohort makes significant debit card swipes, which generates revenue for your organization in addition to account fees that you may charge.

This persona has the added potential of increasing their savings and investment opportunities as they become more educated about HSAs, potentially moving them into the HSA saver or HSA investor personas.

HSA Saver

Those who recognize the tax benefits of using their HSAs to pay for their current medical expenses and the value of the HSA as a long-term savings vehicle for future medical expenses could be identified as HSA savers. They contribute the maximum amount each year. While they use their HSA assets for medical expenses incurred, they tend to first pay medical expenses out of pocket, rather than tapping into their HSAs. Their overall goal is asset accumulation. Their account balances will grow at a faster pace than HSA users’.

HSA Investor

Similar to HSA savers, HSA investors treat their HSAs as an additional tax-deferred savings vehicle. HSA investors not only maximize their HSA contributions, but they often choose to pay current medical expenses out of pocket rather than use their HSA.

With contributions being the main account activity, HSA investors’ account balances grow much faster than the other three personas. Many HSA investors take it one step further by looking for more robust HSA investment options to increase their rate of return.

Although HSA investors are looking for additional investment options, they typically leave a portion of their account balance in the traditional cash or demand deposit account to ensure that they have some liquid assets available for medical expenses. In this case, HSA investors could be “shared” by both a bank and a nonbank organization.


Recognizing the characteristics of each type of HSA owner is the first step in positioning your organization to attract more HSA clients. The second step is to specialize your HSA offerings and services for each cohort.

For FSA users and HSA users to move out of these personas, they will need more disposable income (from job changes, promotions, etc.), more HSA education, or both. This presents an opportunity for your organization, as FSA and HSA users likely will be loyal to the organization that educated them on HSA rules. Your organization could become a one-stop-shop for other financial services they may need.

Attracting and retaining HSA savers and HSA investors would ultimately bring your financial organization larger balances and less administrative work because these HSA owners tend to take fewer distributions.

Consider talking with local businesses about HSAs and offering them HSA training as a way to network and create enrollment opportunities with employers and potential HSA owners. And don’t forget about the HSA owners who already have an HSA through their employer. They may be willing to transfer their HSA to your organization, perhaps because of better interest rates, investment options, service, or the convenience of having all of their accounts in one place.

Overall, think of the consumer potential of HSAs, rather than HSAs as single accounts. An HSA may start as one account, but that one account comes with the chance to sell other banking products, which can pay your organization dividends in the future.