Visa U.S.A. is dropping the word "debit" from its vocabulary, but it still hopes to make debit cards a bigger part of its business.

The San Francisco bank card association, unveiling a multi-million dollar promotion of its debit products, said Visa Debit Cards henceforth will be called Visa Check Cards.

Marketing research showed the word "debit" was a turnoff to customers. So "we put a bullet in the words |Visa debit,'" said Peter B. Gustafson, senior vice president of deposit products. Visa employees, he added, are being fined $1 everytime they use the word.

Positioning as an Alternative

With 100 million Visa Check Cards and Interlink cards expected to be in consumers' wallets by 1995, Mr. Gustafson said Visa now is focusing on convincing consumers that the cards are a convenient alternative to cash and checks.

Visa and MasterCard International view debit as a critical element in a drive to gain market share from checks and cash, which still account for about 80% of all purchases.

On-Line and Off-Line Products

Banks that issue the cards can earn processing fees from merchants and, if they choose, transaction fees or periodic fees from the cardholders.

Visa and MasterCard each are promoting an on-line debit card that immediately draws on the customer's accounts for purchases, and an off-line card that debits the cardholder's account after a delay of a day or two.

The off-line products, Visa Check Cards and MasterDebit, can be used at the same merchants that accept the credit cards.

Fewer consumers can qualify for the cards because of risk to the financial institution of waiting for the money.

The one-line products, Visa's Interlink and MasterCard's MAestro, can be issued to anyone who has an account and work like automated teller machine cards.

MasterCard issued a statement asserting that the use of the word "check" would confuse merchants and consumers.

The rival association also cited Visa's announcement as further evidence that it intends to emphasize the off-line product.

Nationwide but Flexible

Mr. Gustafson denied favoring one product over the other, saying Visa's main goal at this point is to tell consumers what the cards allow them to do.

Mr. Gustafson said Visa's campaign, the "New Shape of Checking," has been designed to be national in scope yet flexible enough to meet the needs of individual issuers.

The materials include direct-mail pieces, in-branch materials, and advertising templates that can be customized to the card issuer.

In addition, the campaign will build on Visa's existing consumer education programs.

These include "Choices and Decisions," a financial education program offered in high schools, and "Credit Cards: An Owners Manual," a brochure featuring tips on money management.

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