Advancing the customer-relationship management movement, First Data Resources is offering credit card issuers a processing technology designed to give cardholders new capability to customize and link card accounts.

The Omaha-based credit card processor said its Relationship Processing technology, with three patents pending, will help issuers to retain cardholders as they deal with marriage, college, or the Internet.

"Strategically, every bank in America is looking into customer relationship strategies and how [they can] 'household' various products," said Michael Auriemma, president of Auriemma Consulting Group of Westbury, N.Y. First Data's product "takes relationship processing to another level," he said.

The Relationship Processing tool, tested over the last few months with three undisclosed issuers, is being pitched to all 1,400 First Data issuers. It allows members of a household to maintain separate but linked accounts and realize the benefits of both, said Jeff Price, senior vice president of marketing for First Data Resources. The company is a unit of First Data Corp., which is based in Atlanta.

Such features can help issuers avoid having their services viewed as commodities, with competition taking place only on the basis of credit limits, interest rates, and minimum payments, he said. "This provides them the ability to add value to the relationship; it's not just lending money," Mr. Price said.

The technology allows customers to shift credit lines as their needs change. For example, rather than opening an entire $10,000 credit line to a college student, parents could have a linked account with a $1,000 credit cap that would be included in the $10,000. Over time, the parameters of the account could be changed without issuing a new card.

Like businesses that use corporate cards, families could also restrict where cards are used. Young adults could be allowed to buy books and clothing, but not to make purchases from restaurants or bars. Nannies might be restricted to dry cleaners and grocery stores.

Additionally, First Data said it is anticipating that the technology could help issuers soothe fears about on-line shopping fraud. Cardholders could open a linked account for Internet purchases, establishing a smaller ceiling for spending. Issuers still could offer the convenience of one statement, breaking out on-line purchases.

"Once you have this type of a program set up for a consumer, they're not likely to close that account and go somewhere else just because somebody's going to give them a 2.9% intro rate on a balance transfer for six months," Mr. Price said.

W. Christopher Staab, managing associate for Auriemma Consulting, said the First Data product breaks new ground. The consumer market, for instance, has never had restrictions on retail categories, he said.

Other information databases can match street addresses to determine members of the same household, he said, but they are not necessarily "smart enough" to use those facts to make marketing and risk management decisions.

Mr. Staab called First Data's scheme "a great start" that has promise not just for credit cards, but for the processing of consumer loans or insurance - areas the company says it is exploring. "I think that's where a lot of potential gets unlocked," he said.

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