Jack M. Antonini, who announced his departure from First USA Inc. two weeks ago, joined First Union Corp. as executive vice president of its consumer group on Monday.

Mr. Antonini, 44, takes on a broad range of consumer credit and service delivery responsibilities, including its Cyberbanking programs. He succeeds Burt Melton, who retired July 1.

Mr. Antonini is particularly experienced in credit cards, having built United Services Automobile Association's USAA Federal Savings Bank into a major issuer before joining First USA, one of the top monoline companies, in 1995.

The executive left First USA, where he headed a thrift affiliate, in the wake of its acquisition by Banc One Corp.

First Union's consumer group-which includes credit and debit cards, Internet commerce, merchant processing, consumer credit, auto finance, mortgages, and home equity lending-is expected to be the staging ground for branchless banking initiatives.

In a brief interview, Mr. Antonini said First Union has a "significant direct-mail business" and that he is "looking to broaden and expand this," aided by the pending purchase of Signet Banking Corp. in Virginia and its "data base and consumer expertise."

He said First Union will build "nonface-to-face and remote capabilities" and will cross-sell to cardholders home equity lines, capital management products, and auto loans.

At First USA, Mr. Antonini "learned and arguably pioneered the direct marketing that First Union has been talking about," said Lawrence Vitale, managing director at Bear, Stearns & Co. "There is already $5 billion in First Union's direct banking" division and a "$200 million call center ready to go."

"First Union is going after deposits by mail," said Richard X. Bove, senior vice president of equity research at Raymond James & Associates, St. Petersburg, Fla.

Credit card specialists such as First USA and MBNA Corp. have "done a better job" than banks in direct marketing, Mr. Bove said. By snagging Mr. Antonini, First Union is "going at it in the right fashion," Mr. Bove said.

Mr. Bove said the First Union's agreement last month to buy Signet for $3.25 billion will bring "a national data base of consumers" for solicitations.

Mr. Antonini joined Dallas-based First USA as chief financial officer in 1995 and spearheaded the establishment of First USA Federal Savings Bank last year.

As chief executive officer of USAA Federal Savings Bank, which was chartered in San Antonio in 1983, he extended into credit cards and banking services the "agentless" and "branchless" strategies that the parent USAA pioneered in the insurance business.

Mr. Antonini's role at First USA, some experts contend, was sure to be deemphasized because Banc One Corp. has the delivery network to accomplish much of what First USA was trying to do through the new thrift subsidiary.

Mr. Antonini reports to First Union vice chairman John R. Georgius. He also joins the "key managers committee."

Among those reporting to Mr. Antonini is Fred M. Winkler, executive vice president of the customer direct-access division, which includes credit and debit cards, merchant processing and Internet commerce. He previously reported to Mr. Melton.

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