Amazon Prime is more than just a free shipping service.

The program, which was launched in 2005, now offers members access to everything from streaming video and music content to early access to special deals.

It's also becoming a marketing and customer acquisition channel for other businesses.

Case in point: last week, Amazon and Wells Fargo announced a partnership that will allow members of Amazon Prime Student to receive an interest rate discount on private student loans.

Amazon Prime Student is a version of Amazon Prime for students that was launched in 2010. It gives students access to the benefits of Prime at a reduced cost of $49/year, half the price of a regular Amazon Prime membership (and Amazon offers a six-month free trial).

Through the relationship with Wells Fargo, Amazon Prime Student members who apply for and receive, or cosign for, a private student loan will receive a 0.50% interest rate discount.

They can reduce their interest rate further by setting up automatic monthly payments and taking advantage of any Wells Fargo global promotions they're eligible for.

According to John Rasmussen, who heads Wells Fargo's Personal Lending Group, "We are focused on innovation and meeting our customers where they are – and increasingly that is in the digital space."

A sign of things to come?

While affinity and relationship discounts are not new to financial services industry, the Wells Fargo-Amazon partnership is an interesting one for a couple of reasons.

First, the market for private student loans is relatively small compared to the overall student loan market. According to the Q1 2016 MeasureOne Private Student Loan Report, private student loans make up well under 10% of total student loans outstanding. The vast majority of student loans are federal.

Private student loans don't have the best reputation and are generally more expensive than their government-subsidised counterparts. That makes it a tough market for lenders like Wells Fargo, so if the Amazon Prime Student relationship can help drive loan volume, it could be a real boon to Wells Fargo's private student lending business.

Second, Wells Fargo's decision to market its private student loans through Amazon Prime Student offers yet more evidence of the unbundling of financial services.

Historically, large banks like Wells Fargo have used their leverage over customers to be all things to all customers. The internet has changed that, and large financial institutions can't count on their customers to turn to them for all of their needs by default.

That's why Wells Fargo is looking for ways to meet customers where they are.

While it remains to be seen just how productive the Wells Fargo-Amazon Prime Student relationship will be, don't be surprised to see other players in the financial services market turn to digital channels in a similar fashion going forward as they seek to compete in increasingly competitive markets and deal with consumers who put service and price above loyalty.

Patricio Robles

Published 29 July, 2016 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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