When she was chief information officer for Discover Financial Services, Diane Offereins created a network designed to put the 23-year-old company on technological par with its older and larger rivals.

Now, as head of Discover's Payment Services, Offereins puts that infrastructure to work.

Payment Services, which includes the Discover Network, the PULSE ATM/debit network, and Diners Club International, is Discover's fastest-growing segment. It reported pretax income of $27 million in the second quarter, up $10 million from the second quarter of 2008. Offereins took over PULSE in 2006, and since then its sales volume has increased 52 percent, to $106 billion in 2008.

One of Offereins' top priorities is maintaining relationships with the large merchants that contribute 70 percent of Discover's sales volume, while reaching out to smaller operations.

Over the summer, Discover representatives made more than 800,000 in-person visits to smaller merchants, explaining Discover's network capabilities and offering business-boosting partnerships. For example, Discover might send out geographically specific email coupons, good only if cardholders charge merchandise at nearby mom-and-pop shops.

"This is probably the one project that has been helped by this recession because merchants are interested in anything that will help drive sales," says Offereins, who takes pride in the innovation of the face-to-face campaign.

"We are kind of like a start-up business," she adds. "We have fierce competition with two established players in the market. We cannot use a me-too strategy. We need to be different. We need to be way more creative."

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