First Bank System Inc. has introduced a purchasing card for companies with fleet operations.

The Minneapolis-based banking company, which specializes in corporate credit card programs, is jointly offering the Visa fleet product with International Automated Energy Systems Inc.

International Automated, based in Naples, Fla., provides purchasing card services to companies in the express delivery, courier, and beverage distribution industries, among others.

The card will be launched at the end of this month. The International Automated name with the word "fleet" will be emblazoned on the card front, along with the Visa logo and hologram.

Drivers will be able to use the card to purchase fuel and other accessories, like tires and batteries. As is common in purchasing card programs, restrictions are built into the system to control where and how employees use the card.

A spokesman for International Automated called the alliance a "perfect marriage" because each company is contributing unique strengths.

First Bank is the largest issuer of purchasing cards. Its more than 175 corporate relationships include such companies as Pepsi-Cola, Eli Lilly, and Mobil Oil.

First Bank also handles the federal government's General Services Administration contract as well as various state programs representing over $1 billion in annual sales volume and 90,000 cardholders.

First Bank will be seeking to cross-sell the fleet card to companies already in its corporate card programs. In addition, the bank will recruit merchants to accept the card and provide settlement services between the merchants and the companies using the fleet card.

While First Bank taps its existing customers, International Automated will be responsible for marketing and selling the product and its related software to new customers.

"The Visa brand name strengthens our identity and will allow us to grow more rapidly," said a spokesman for International Automated.

The company, which has customers in Florida, Alabama, and Georgia, expects to attract 300,000 vehicle fleets within a year. Such fleets could have as few as two cars.

International Automated's software requires cardholders to enter a personal identification number. The system captures information about the vehicle and card user at the point of sale, which streamlines accounting and other tracking mechanisms.

For example, the fleet operator might want to know when a vehicle received its last oil change or if it was driven over a weekend.

The driver also has to answer a series of questions at the point of sale, such as the cost of the fuel and how many miles the vehicle was driven.

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Another company getting on the purchasing-card bandwagon is Transnet Inc., a rapidly growing operator of point of sale payment networks.

Transnet introduced software to process purchasing card transactions. The Tampa company said it "intends to become a leader in this relatively untapped $400 billion market."

Aside from Visa and MasterCard, which are actively promoting purchasing programs through member banks, card providers like American Express and GE Capital and processors like Card Establishment Services, National Data Corp., and Total System Services have similarly announced major commitments to the market.

Total System's commercial software supports major issuers like First Bank System and Chase Manhattan Bank.

Transnet's program was certified by Procard Inc., a leading integrator of purchasing card systems, and is compatible with Verifone's Tranz series point of sale terminals. Transnet will support the purchasing programs of Visa, MasterCard, Procard, and all other major players.

"We believe that just as debit cards have come into prominence, so too will purchasing cards," said Ralph Bianco, Transnet's vice president of product management and development.

The system has been tailored to capture 18-digit customer numbers, sales taxes, and zip codes. The 18-digit number traces individual transactions back to a specific employee. The number can change with each transaction or the company has the option of using it as a permanent identification number.

Transnet also has the ability to send the purchasing card data directly to Procard, which offers procurement card processing services to banks.

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