A new program from Capital One Financial Corp. encourages cardholders to put recurring bills on a credit card.
Capital One is sending out stickers that customers can paste to monthly remittances-cable television, telephone, or Internet subscription bills, for example-indicating they want to charge future bills to a card.
Encouraging customers to consolidate payments on a single card has long been a top goal of card issuers, which are also increasingly intent on playing a role in on-line bill presentments and payments.
It is part and parcel of the card industry's desire to displace cash and check payments, and household bills present a ripe area for expansion.
Visa U.S.A. recently reported that it gained 1 percentage point of personal consumption spending last year, raising its share to 10.5%. Much of that is believed to have come from cash and checks.
Visa said recurring payments on its cards are growing by 41% annually and are expected to reach $16 billion in volume this year, up from $11.9 billion in 1998.
Capital One's program, Quick Pay, is being offered to customers whose cards have 9.9% fixed interest rates, said Diana Don, a spokeswoman for the Falls Church, Va., company. The idea is to foster customer loyalty by tying basic expenses to Capital One cards.
The solicitation pitches convenience and savings: "Everyone dreads it ... pulling out the checkbook. ... Think about the money you spend on checks and postage, not to mention the additional fees charged if your payment arrives late for some reason."
Enclosed with the letter are six Quick Pay invoice stickers that ask for a customer's credit card account number and authorized signature. A person who wants to begin charging, say, insurance premiums would put the sticker on the next insurance bill.
Capital One supplies a list of companies that accept credit card payments.
Other card issuers are interested in developing similar programs, but industry experts said Capital One is ahead of the game.
"To find additional ways for someone to spend using your card is a good idea, and to make it a recurring payment is an even better idea," said Michael Auriemma, president of Auriemma Consulting Group, Westbury, N.Y.
He said Quick Pay could reduce Capital One's attrition rate. A customer who must notify several merchants about canceling automatic billing would be less likely to switch credit cards, he said.
From a lender's perspective, the trickiest part of such a program is cutting checks to merchants on behalf of customers, said Christopher Batenhorst, vice president of competitive tracking services for BAIGlobal Inc., a Tarrytown, N.Y., research and consulting firm. "You have to have the infrastructure to pay these bills."
Consumer advocates take a dim view of Capital One's concept, saying it could prompt people to get into financial trouble.
"This program encourages consumers to finance regular expenditures that should be paid promptly, and many cardholders who participate in this program will allow those debts to mount," said Stephen Brobeck, executive director of the Consumer Federation of America in Washington.
According to Auriemma's re-search, 26% of consumers have some type of routine bill charged automatically to a bank account or credit card. Consumers are more likely to make such arrangements with vendors that charge a fixed monthly fee, such as Internet service providers.
CLEVELAND-KeyBank is sponsoring a sweepstakes to promote its debit card for small businesses and its on-line banking services.
Through June 30, every purchase made with KeyBank's Small Business KeyMoney MasterMoney Card enters the cardholder in a drawing for a Compaq computer, a year of free Internet access, and a year of free on-line banking and bill payment from KeyCorp's lead bank.
A winner will be chosen every month.