PHOENIX -- Bank of America Arizona has jumped on the photo credit crid bandwagon.

Two months after local rival, Bank One Arizona, made a big splash with a photo-card announcemtn, the BankAmerica Corp. unit last week began inviting customers to visit Arizona branches to have their pictures taken.

Depending on how the launch goes, the program may be expanded to other parts of BankAmerica's 10-state network of 1,950 retail branches.

The bank will put the photographs on BankAmericard credit cards and on Versatel Visa Check cards, which are usable at Visa-accepting merchants and in the Versatel automated teller machine network.

Taking advantage of the same technology from Polaroid Corp. and DataCard Corp. in use at other banks, BankAmerica is also printing the customer's signature on the front of the photo cards.

Emphasis on Security

BankAmerica ranks fifth among banking companies in credit card outstandings and has 7 million MasterCard and Visa cardholders nationwide.

Its Arizona bank has issued 360,000 Veratel Visa Check cards, and is equipped to take pictures and produce the photo cards at most of its 150 branches.

Like other banks in the recent wave of photo-card offerings, which began last year with New York-based Citibank, Bank of America Arizona is emphasizing the security aspect of a card bearing the cardholder's face and signature.

Lost and stolen cards cause almost half of the $1 billion in annual card industry fraud losses; another 20% is due to card's being stolen in the mail.

"The fanancial industry carries much of the burden for this fraudulent activity, but indirectly consumers feel the effect as well," said Robert D. Sznewajs, executive vice president and head of BankAmerica's credit card division, which is based in Phoenix.

Strong Interest Seen

Some security experts have questioned the cards' crime-stopping potential. If the photos and signatures are to be effective at all, tney must be checked by store clerks, who re notoriously inattentive when processing sales.

But customer perceptions may be more important.

BankAmerica preceded its photo-card introduction with consumer research tht revealed a widespread concern about fraud and a strong interest in the product.

Bank of America Arizona provided some sample quotes from consumers who said the photo cards are "a clever new way to protect yourself,c provide "one less thing to worry about," and "it's yours and separates you from ther individuals."

Bank of America's research also showed a desire for photos on debit cards as well as credit cards.

"When we did the pilot in Arizona, we asked if they wanted the picture on the Visa Check Card, and they did," Mr. Sznewajs said.

The debit-credit tie-in, and the delivery of this credit card enhancement through bank branches, required coordination and cooperation across business units, which Mr. Sznewajs said is essential to BankAmerica's relationship orientation.

Seeking Cross Sales

A training video for branch personnel focuses as much on marketing aspects as on the photo card's security appeal.

For example, in the time it takes for the Polaroid image to develop - customers have the option of discarding photos they dislike - service representatives are to "profile" their customer. The objective is to learn the extent of the present banking relationship and zero in on a cross-selling opportunity.

"The vast majority of out [card] customers are in the areas where we do a retail banking business," Mr. Sznewajs said. "Doing something like this with the retail bank is what we're all about."

Mr. Sznewajs said photo cards are likely to become most prevalent among banks that similarly regard credit cards as a core product with cross-selling potential through branches.

Showdown with Banc One

Arizona will be the first true test of head-to-head picture card competition. Banc One Corp.'s subsidiary, formerly Valley National Bank of Arizona and Mr. Sznewajs' former employer, introduced the service through its 205 branches on Sept. 7.

Advertisements herald a card that "stands head and shoulders above the rest."

Bank One Arizona has exceeded expectations in photocard issuance and has gotten enthusiastic responses from customers and merchants, said Judith Stevens, vice president of product management.

"We knew it was going to be well received based on the research," she said. While the program is both attracting new customers and helping retain existing ones, it is too early for a complete assessment of the returns.

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