AT&T Universal Card Services is encouraging Internet users to read their credit card statements on-line, hoping eventually to wean them from paper statements.

AT&T is wooing Web surfers because they are growing in number and supporting them is cheaper on-line.

In December the card issuer introduced its first television advertisement in four years. It highlighted the benefits and safety of electronic commerce.

That same month AT&T Corp. agreed to sell its card subsidiary to Citicorp. The companies expect the deal to close April 1, and the push to electronic commerce will likely continue, said Andrew O. Watson, who is leading AT&T's Web initiatives.

"Citibank is very supportive of what they have seen of our efforts," Mr. Watson said.

Ultimately, AT&T wants to serve as many customers on-line as it can, getting them away from telephone and mail transactions.

"We basically tried to recreate the entire business in the electronic space, from applying for the card all the way through using it and controlling it," Mr. Watson said.

Internet transactions cost about 2 cents, versus 75 cents for a transaction through the telephone voice response unit. It costs about $3.25 when a customer speaks to a service representative, Mr. Watson said.

Paper statements cost $4 to $8 a year per account. Card issuers are now required to send statements by mail, but AT&T is hopeful that legal exemptions are forthcoming.

It will deliver on-line statements with current balances, credit lines, and the last payment made, among other things. Customers can also sign up for an automatic payment program.

To use the service, cardholders must register on AT&T's Web site. In January 13,000 people registered, and 43,000 who had previously registered asked AT&T to cease sending paper statements.

Mr. Watson, vice president of electronic distribution, estimated it will take nine months for AT&T to gain permission to stop mailing statements to the registered customers.

AT&T said the service will appeal strongly to the 25% of its 13 million account holders who use the Internet. New customers are mostly young and "very Internet-connected," Mr. Watson said.

AT&T is not alone in targeting Web-surfers. A few other major card issuers have similar on-line programs, including Morgan Stanley, Dean Witter, Discover & Co., and Chase Manhattan Bank.

Unlike AT&T's on-line statement, Morgan Witter's is not identical to its paper version. But the issuer of the Discover card also expects the electronic statements to cut its costs.

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