Banc One Corp. bought card industry leadership last year in the form of First USA Inc. It stands to add even more muscle with the acquisition of First Chicago NBD Corp.

First Chicago's $17.1 billion of receivables as of midyear, added to Banc One's $41.6 billion, would on a pro forma basis move it ahead of the present No. 2 issuer, MBNA Corp.

Despite merger complications, "we haven't lost our focus," said Richard W. Vague, First USA chairman and Banc One card czar. "If anything, Banc One has created an environment where it is easy - if not easier - to focus on the business at hand to emphasize growth."

First USA, one of the "monoline" innovators of balance transfers and teaser rates, took the industry lead last year in the new platinum segment, with 12.1 million cards and $17 billion of receivables. One of the most aggressive direct-mail marketers, it has solicited upper-income people with 9.99% fixed rates. Card receivables in the second quarter were up 14% from a year earlier.

The company has started to use data-mining techniques to cross-sell automobile and home equity loans, and it has plans to tap into other product areas such as insurance, mutual funds, and financial planning.

"We have seen (cross-selling) success greater than our original projections - and we really just feel like we are scratching the surface," Mr. Vague said.

Turning to the Internet, Banc One has signed cobranding deals with the search engines Excite and Yahoo. And with the First Chicago acquisition will come the United Airlines and Marriott Corp. cobranding agreements.

Like other big issuers, Banc One is looking overseas for new growth.

"The sky is the limit to what (Mr. Vague) can do with that company," said James Shanahan, a partner at Business Dynamics Consulting Inc., Newark, Del. "They have enormous resources in terms of their size."

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