BankAmerica Corp., the nation's second-largest bank holding company, has enlisted Coopers & Lybrand Consulting to assist with its purchasing card program.

Its Bank of America unit has been issuing MasterCard-branded purchasing cards since September 1994. It is the second bank to join forces with a Big Six accounting firm. Citicorp has hooked up with Deloitte & Touche in a similar joint venture.

Bank of America said last week that it had formed the alliance with Coopers & Lybrand to help companies streamline their purchasing and accounting processes for small-dollar items.

"We think this differentiates our program," said Kerry Williams, vice president of commercial card services at Bank of America. With the new clients Coopers brings, he added, Bank of America can issue more cards, increase its spending volume, and consequently spread the cost savings to its clients.

Purchasing cards are designed to capture transactions that average less than $350 but can account for up to 90% of the total transactions corporations make.

The market for purchasing cards is said to be growing 100% a year, compared with 20% for traditional business cards. The potential annual volume banks and others are chasing is $300 billion of small-dollar purchases. Of that, less than 2% is now charged on purchasing cards.

As part of the Bank of America/Coopers agreement, both parties will promote Bank of America's purchasing card program to large companies. In addition, they will identify customers who need or want Coopers' consulting assistance.

Bill White, a partner at Coopers & Lybrand Consulting and West Coast manager of the financial services practice, said the relationship with Bank of America lets its clients choose another consulting firm and Coopers' clients, another purchasing card issuer.

Mr. White said his firm would help companies move from the pilot stage of purchasing card rollout, where they sometimes get bogged down.

Philip A. Skarston, vice president of marketing for Procard Inc., a Golden, Colo., company that specializes in purchasing cards, said he expects more banks to look for outside consulting assistance.

Procard, which has four bank clients working with more than 400 companies, does this in three stages, he said - the start-up/pilot phase, which could take six months or longer; the rollout phase, which for a Fortune 500 company could take a number of years; and the maintenance stage.

"In my view," he said, "you need dedicated consultants on an ongoing basis for the life of the program."

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