Cindy Smith is a master at keeping things plastic. As Zions Bancorporation's svp and director of BankCard Products and Services, Smith has inspired her division to triple revenues over the past three years while increasing operational expenses by only $750,000.

Since Smith joined Zions in 2004, the numbers have been stellar. Credit card sales volume has increased by 36.5 percent; revenue is up by 14.8 percent; and credit card net income grew by 15.7 percent. Debit cards are doing even better, with increased card sales volume of 137.8 percent, revenue increases of 127.3 percent, and net income up by 198.1 percent.

Even in this year's tough environment, Smith has delivered. In the first half of 2008 credit card revenue is up 87 percent, and net income 122 percent. Debit revenue is up 22 percent and net income 25 percent. Through the first half of this year, her group added $65 million of pre-tax dollars to the company's bottom line.

These gains resulted from a strategic focus on growing credit and debit card usage, penetration, and activation, along with a variety of innovations affecting both the cost and revenue sides of the balance sheet. "When I first came in, the department wasn't really run like a bank card department," Smith says. "People didn't really have a lot of pride in the work they did."

Many employees had been with the bank 10 or 15 years, and they weren't keen on changing the way they did business. Smith reorganized and worked hard to persuade the staff that changes-including some that automated their more mundane duties - would make their jobs more meaningful.

Bringing fraud detection in-house in July 2006 reduced credit card gross losses by nearly $1 million, even as credit and debit card portfolios have grown.

Smith outsourced card production to allow for large quantities of card orders and revamped Zions' lost and stolen card process to get cards back in the hands of owners faster.

Smith's division also found inventive ways to offer BankCard products to niche markets in each of the eight affiliate banks that comprise Zions, rather than leave the marketing to the affiliates themselves.

One tactic was to offer Visa debit cards to all Zions customers with existing ATM cards. About 11,000 clients took up the offer, which resulted in almost $9 million in signature debit card spending.

Another innovation was to launch myPHOTOcards-personalized photo debit and credit cards-in two affiliates. Since the launch in late 2007, more than 5,000 have been issued, and early results show a 15 to 20 percent increase in spend per consumer.

Zions chief executive Harris Simmons says Smith's great contribution has been to market a great product across all affiliates. "It's really a star business for us and one of the most profitable activities we're engaged in," Simmons says.

Simmons says Smith has kept the portfolio's delinquency and charge-off levels at about a third of what the rest of the industry experiences.

And, true to form, Smith is keeping things plastic. For about six months, the division has focused on value stream mapping-looking at all processes to determine what adds value and what doesn't. This mapping has led the department to consider new technological advancements, which will probably be implemented sometime next year, Smith says. (c) 2008 U.S. Banker and SourceMedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved. http://www.americanbanker.com/usb.html/ http://www.sourcemedia.com/

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