Bank of Boston Corp. is doing some soul-searching about its credit card business.

By the end of the quarter, it will decide whether to remain in the card business that it recently reentered after a five-year hiatus, said Jeff Slawsky, the bank's director of credit card services.

Bank of Boston chairman Charles Gifford said late last year that he was taking a hard look at the bank's national consumer finance businesses because he doubts its ability to compete in those areas.

Last week, Bank of Boston sold one of its national consumer finance businesses, Fidelity Acceptance Corp., a Minneapolis-based automobile finance company.

Bank of Boston, ranked 43d among card issuers, exited the card business in 1990, selling its $625 million portfolio to Chase Manhattan Corp.

Nearly 16 months ago, it restarted its card operation, promising to become the biggest issuer in New England within three years.

Mr. Slawsky, who was hired in 1994 from Banc One, said Bank of Boston is considering all options, including selling its $1.4 billion portfolio. But he said, "We are not out there soliciting buyers."

Sources familiar with the bank's plans, however, indicated that a deal to extricate itself from the card business is more imminent than Bank of Boston is saying.

Mr. Slawsky said that only the U.S. card operations are being evaluated. Bank of Boston also issues cards in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Uruguay, and it intends to remain in those markets, he said.

While Bank of Boston's credit losses have been manageable -2.6% for 1996-analysts attributed its interest in exiting the business to its fear of greater losses.

"They don't have enough scale, and the risk-adjusted returns in putting more resources into" the card business may not seem like a good option, said Fox-Pitt Kelton analyst Michael Granger.

"It would be disappointing if Bank of Boston leaves the card business," said credit card consultant Michael Auriemma. "It has a novel approach to outsourcing, and it was growing pretty quickly."

The bank has contracts with First Data Corp., Hackensack, N.J., to handle card processing and with First Annapolis Consulting, Linthicum, Md., to manage information processing. "Frankly, the only reason we would sell this is if we couldn't compete effectively over the next five years," Mr. Slawsky said. "We like the business."

Sources said the bank is considering a number of options, one of which is spinning off the card unit, similar to Signet Banking Corp.'s move with Capital One Financial Corp.

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