U.S. credit card issuers eyeing the Canadian market will find it a lot like their home territory, a survey suggests.

Canadians have fewer card products to choose from, but they pick them much as U.S. consumers do, J.D. Power and Associates found.

"Though the Canadian market is much smaller ... signs are that competition between card issuers is beginning to heat up," said Andrew March, director of financial services at J.D. Power, which just released results of its first Canadian cardholder satisfaction study.

The Agoura Hills, Calif., research firm, best known for its auto industry studies, polled 3,158 Canadian cardholders in what is to be the first of an annual series. J.D. Power has been doing U.S. cardholder surveys since 1995.

Canadian card issuers face more than domestic competition. U.S. issuers are expanding northward, said Mr. March, who is based in Westport, Conn.

As the competition intensifies, "customer satisfaction and loyalty are going to be even more important as issuers seek to differentiate their cards," Mr. March said.

In the Canada survey, 24% of respondents said they considered an issuer's reputation the most important barometer of quality. A company with a good reputation, the people said, would be honest about disclosing charges and fees.

Also, 21% said their greatest concern when selecting a card company was its payment policy. Those consumers wanted the issuer to allow a generous amount of time between sending a bill and requiring payment.

Seventeen percent said the clarity of the billing document was of particular interest, and 16% said low interest rates were the top consideration.

The survey looked at eight major Canadian card issuers. The fourth- largest, Toronto Dominion Bank, emerged as the leader in most categories and earned J.D. Power's top score.

"Toronto Dominion did a strong job in virtually all the dimensions," Mr. March said.

Toronto Dominion has a leading rewards program by virtue of the General Motors card it issues, Mr. March said. Moreover, he said, consumers view its billing statements as clear and accurate.

Barbara Cromb, a Toronto Dominion vice president, said its credit card division has made a concerted effort to improve customer service. Over the last year, she said, the bank upgraded its automated voice response system.

Royal Bank of Canada and Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce came in second and third in the J.D. Power survey, and Canada Trust, one of the "near banks," came in fourth.

Bank of Montreal, Caisse Populaire, National Bank of Canada, and Bank of Nova Scotia all scored below the industry average as calculated by J.D. Power.

"There is clearly more pressure to do more for consumers," Ms. Cromb said. "MBNA (Corp.) has just come to Canada and has started to talk to a lot of affinity groups."

Ms. Cromb said Canadian card issuers have stepped up advertising and direct mail solicitations, prompting more turnover among accounts. Though Canada has "nowhere near the turnover rate of the U.S.," she said, "it is moving that way."

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