SAN FRANCISCO -- Take it from someone who works for a telephone company: Bankers are not up to speed on the information highway, and they are in danger of being left in the dust.

William F. Keenan, a veteran bank card marketer and head of US West's cobranded credit card venture, said he is "appalled" at the banking and credit card communities' lack of interest in multimedia developments.

He acknowledged that MasterCard and Visa have home or remote banking programs under way, but he said other types of corporations are ahead of the game and could end up performing functions historically controlled by banks.

"The credit card industry has to come up to speed real fast if it wants to be a player in this emerging market," Mr. Keenan told attendees at the Fair, Isaac & Co. conference last week.

Mr. Keenan, managing director of credit card services for U S West Business Resources Inc. in Phoenix, stressed in a subsequent interview that he and his company do not take a narrow view of card and transaction services. Bankers may see his 300,000-card program with U.S. Bancorp of Portland, Ore., as one of their many cobranded competitors, but U S West keeps it in the broad context of transactions and telecommunications.

Mr. Keenan, who worked for First Omni Bank and other card issuers before joining U S West in 1993, tracks advanced card technologies in part through membership in the Smart Card Forum. He coordinates the activities of several U S West units that took an interest in that multi-industry information exchange, which was organized by Citicorp and includes several other banking companies.

But when much of the card technology community gathered last month at the CardTech/Securtech conference in Arlington, Va., an incredulous Mr. Keenan counted about 20 banks represented in the crowd of 3,000.

He said he comes across few bankers who grasp the implications for their business of the emerging information infrastructure. By contrast, telecommunications companies like U S West and BellSouth, which are planning home-based tests of the smart card, understand its capabilities and costs and will go to great lengths to develop revenue sources to compensate.

If the banks don't stake out a position for their payment services, or ensure a continuing role for the cards they have issued, the telecommunications providers may step in with solutions of their own, Mr. Keenan warned.

When telecommunications and financial services mix, "we would like to partner with a bank," said Mr. Keenan. "We don't want to be a bank, but we will certainly want to drive transactions through our network."

Also in his talk, Mr. Keenan equated credit card marketing with the consumer product and retailing strategy known as everyday low pricing: "Today's customer wants more value for less," the executive said.

Building customer loyalty, he added, requires "a unique selling proposition not easily copied by the competition," which helps explain many card cobranding successes.

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