The ever-secretive Capital One Financial Corp. opened a tiny window this week on its plans for growth outside credit cards.
The nation's ninth-largest credit card issuer has been marketing cellular phone services in some areas under the name America One, said Capital One spokeswoman Diana Sun.
America One is not the company's first foray outside its core business, and it won't be the last. In a cryptic hint, Ms. Sun said, "If you write a check to something at the end of the month, we are probably looking at that business."
The company's tests, however, are a closely guarded secret.
Word of Capital One's telecommunications business first came in a Nov. 14 10Q filing by the company with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. analyst Moshe Orenbuch said the filing was the first acknowledgement by Capital One of its involvement in the cellular phone business.
Capital One is selling air time and phones from several cellular phone carriers with which it has contracts.
Though Ms. Sun declined to say how long Capital One has been in the phone business, the 10Q filing stated that it had allocated an increased percentage of its marketing expenses to noncard products or services during the third quarter. Cellular phone service was among those.
Capital One is not the only credit card specialist to branch out.
Advanta Corp., First USA, and MBNA Corp. have all begun to diversify, recognizing that, "while they have been tremendously successful in the card business, it is not going to be there forever," said Michael L. Granger, an analyst at Fox-Pitt Kelton.
The latter three have aligned with insurance providers, and analysts believe Capital One may also be considering such a move.
In October, Advanta launched a subsidiary called Advanta Information Services to pursue nonfinancial consumer services. Like Capital One, Advanta would not elaborate on its plans.
Capital One said its noncard products and services so far have generated only "a small dollar volume of assets and a relatively small number of accounts."