Hoping to fill what it says is a void in card products for midsize businesses, Bank of America Corp. plans this month to begin offering a Visa commercial card for companies with $10 million to $100 million in annual sales.
The product is a scaled-down version of the standard commercial card the Charlotte, N.C., banking company has offered to large companies for five years. Sales of Bank of America's nearly 40,000 commercial customers range from $10 million to $500 million a year, and it now believes a one-size-fits-all approach is wrong for commercial cards.
Like the card for bigger companies, the one for midsize companies will have travel, entertainment, fleet, and purchasing card functions. But the card is less complicated, and by offering fewer options will make transactions faster and easier for midsize businesses, bank executives said. In focus groups these businesses said they did not need as much functionality as the standard commercial card has.
"If there were 100 decisions to be made" for traditional large-business customers, "there are 10 in our new commercial card," said Jeff Rankin, senior manager of corporate and commercial card services at Bank of America.
Large businesses can receive purchase reports through daily file transfers from the bank or get them through Internet. Those using the new product will only be able to get transaction information through the Web.
Business owners can exclude merchant codes from those allowed for purchases and set individual spending limits for different groups of employees, though they will not have as many options as big businesses have.
"There was a gap in the market at large" for such products, Mr. Rankin said. "American Express has been the closest in having a product that does cover the spectrum, but from the Visa/MasterCard perspective, we believe there has been a gap for a while."
Bank of America plans to market the new card primarily to customers. "We have the largest penetration of commercial banking customers throughout the U.S.," Mr. Rankin said. "This will allow us to increase" that penetration.
Those signing up for the card will get it free for six months and then pay $50 a year per account. Charges on the card must be paid within 20 days.
For now the card will be available only through Bank of America, though a Visa spokeswoman said that eventually Visa will offer the product to its other members.
"Officially, this is not a new product," said Janet T. Zablock, vice president of commercial products and services for Visa. "This is taking existing functionality and streamlining that into an offering that suits the middle market." Additional features will be introduced in the next few months, she said, to integrate reporting into the client systems.
Bank of America and Visa U.S.A. developed the card after conducting focus groups with midsize business customers. Visa also surveyed members of the National Association of Purchasing Managers.
Visa found that so-called travel and entertainment cards, most often issued by American Express, were used far more prevalently in the midsize market than commercial purchasing cards were. Visa found only a 7% penetration of purchasing cards among businesses in the U.S. market, and a 58% penetration of travel and entertainment cards and personal credit cards.