More and more credit card issuers are homing in on the idea that they should be pushing for broader relationships with customers.
They are less concerned about inundating the market with direct-mail solicitations, preferring to be seen as a friendly and useful provider of more than basic credit.
"There is not a mass credit card market out here anymore," said Valerie Weaver, card relationship manager at General Motors Corp. "Consumers want relevant information and are demanding one-on-one types of communication."
Since January, GM has been surveying holders of its MasterCard, issued by a unit of Household International, as part of an incentive program called Privileges.
Card members fill out forms indicating when they intend to buy a vehicle and the model they are interested in. GM provides rebate or product offerings based on their responses.
Similarly, when Advanta Corp. sought in March to expand its relationships with subscribers of the cable television company Comcast Corp., the reward was more than discounts on cable bills. Cardholders can also receive gift certificates for QVC merchandise and tickets to sports events in the Philadelphia area.
"The challenge for issuers is looking for those retailers who have a broad enough customer base with the kind of characteristics that banks want in your credit card portfolio," said Lee Manfred, principal at First Annapolis Consulting, Linthicum, Md.
Buffalo-based Marine Midland Banks Inc. markets a loyalty card that offers discounts on everything from credit card finance charges and brokerage trades to free sporting goods, U.S. savings bonds, and camcorders.
As another hook, Marine lets its customers link their deposit accounts to a Marine Midland credit card. At automated teller machines and at retailers that offer a choice, cardholders can chose between debiting their checking accounts and drawing on their credit card lines.
"The best way to make it convenient for the customer is to put it all in one card," said Peter B. Davidson, executive vice president for consumer finance at Marine Midland, a unit of HSBC Holdings PLC.
Mr. Davidson said nearly 20% of cardholders opt for banking services.
Banks trying to link customers to more than one product have often been stymied by the fact that credit card divisions have traditionally been separate from other lines of business, said Michele Turkel, president of Spectrum International Consulting Corp., Scarsdale, N.Y.
Ms. Turkel said the addition of a product like life insurance to a cardholder account could extend the retention of that customer by three or four years.
But stemming attrition is not the only objective for credit card issuers. The accounts have to be healthy and performing.
If a card provides real value to customers, they will go out of their way to make sure that they pay their bills, said Mr. Davidson.
"As a result, delinquency and loss rates are much lower and the profitability for issuers is high," he added.