In its annual survey of the bank card industry, the American Bankers Association confirmed trends issuers have been talking about for the last couple of years. "Bank Card Industry 1995," released Dec. 21, found that balance transfers, purchases, and cash advances fueled growth in 1994. Outstandings jumped 30% in 1994 to $257 billion at yearend, and by mid-1995 that growth continued at a brisk clip with a 16% annualized increase to $278 billion.

About 61% of the 198 Visa and MasterCard issuers who responded to the survey offered cardholders at least one balance transfer program in 1994. More than $628 million was transferred to new accounts, the survey found, with an average transfer of $2,278.

Escalating balance transfers inspired a big boost in cash advances, which soared by 55%, to $86 billion. More than 400,000 bank card accounts were closed, which the ABA took as additional evidence of heightened balance transfer activity.

The dollar volume of purchases grew 21%, to $378 billion. The average retail sale was $73 for standard cards and $89 for gold cards.

Keith D. Coughey, group vice president of consumer lending at PNC National Bank in Wilmington and vice chairman of the ABA Bank Card Executive Committee, described these and other results as "a reflection of what's been going on" in the industry.

"It's like a yearbook," he said, referring to the 140-page bound survey report. "It's not telling us anything new, but it's a great reference source," he said.

Mr. Coughey added that a key question will be whether balance transfers will continue to be used by issuers. "Each issuer will be looking to see whether it is helping to fuel growth," he said, "and if so, what is the quality of that growth?"

Purchases ($204 billion) and cash advances ($57 billion) continued to show strong growth in the first half of 1995, the ABA found.

Interest rates provided 78% of issuer revenues, followed by interchange fees at 11% and annual fees at 5%. Average fees for individual banks included a $20 annual fee and a 2% cash advance fee.

The survey concluded that smaller card issuers generally charged lower interest rates and fees, while larger programs tended to offer a greater number of enhancements and interest rate options.

In a separate survey, "Installment Credit 1995," the ABA found that of the $1.1 trillion in total consumer loan outstandings at banks, 17.8% was in bank cards. Bank card receivables registered the strongest growth in the consumer segment in 1994 to 17.8%.

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