Bankers can profit from knowing more about how credit cards are made, says a growing trade association of small companies that make them.

International Card Manufacturers Association, based in Princeton, N.J., addresses a wide range of issues confronting the business, from security risks to environmental concerns -- and invites bankers to join.

"Bankers should be aware of the manufacturing implications and production protocol that enhance the integrity and security of their cards," said Mary Kay Metcalf, communications manager for the association.

Ms. Metcalf points out that credit card fraud costs the banking industry more than $1.2 billion annually wordwide.

"Counterfeiters and fraudsters are always just one step behind," she said. "Security is a paramount concern of ICMA."

Support from MasterCard

Tom McGrath, director of card security at MasterCard International and a member of the association, agrees. "The bad guys are moving quick; we've got to move just as fast," he says.

MasterCard is an associate member of the organization, as are Visa and Europay.

Mr. McGrath sees the group as an educational forum where bankers can inform manufacturers "of where we're going and what we want to do."

He explained that working with the association on technological advances, like the computer chip carrying smart cards, will save time and money. "We're becoming more hightech," he said. "We need to bring manufacturers up to speed and keep them abreast of the new trends."

Founded in 1990

Albert J. Vrancart, president and chief executive officer of National Business Services Card Systems Inc., a New Jerseybased card manufacturer, cofounded the group in 1990 with Robert S. Blum, president of Colorado Plasticard Inc., another manufacturer. They identified an industrywide need for an organization that could pool resources, conduct research and promote manufacturers concerns.

Since then, the association has grown from 12 members to 70, from 18 countries.

The group works to strengthen security standards, learn about new technologies, and handle manufacturing problems common to the industry.

Still, some of the largest U.S. manufacturers are keeping their distance.

Lou W. Bisasky, president of Malco Plastics Inc., said the association's agenda is geared to sharing technological information rather than promoting card use or new technology. "Malco is the largest producer of cards in the world," he said. "We're not interested in giving away our trade secrets."

Mr. Bisasky attributed 90% of U.S. card manufacturing production to his company and three competitors: Data Card Corp., Perfect Plastic Printing Corp., and Kirk Plastic Co. Inc. -- none of which are members of the association.

Even so, Mr. Vrancart said, those companies send representatives to the group's annual trade show, which showcases card manufacturing materials and equipment from different types of industry suppliers. There were 20 vendors and about 160 attendees at the 1993 show in Portugal.

The fourth convention will take place this fall in Cancun, Mexico, and a larger turnout is expected.

Although the association is lagging in U.S. subscriptions, Mr. Bisasky acknowledged that the trade group had a broader international appeal.

Some foreign subscribers include Oldenburg Security Printing Division in Germany, Interlock AG of Switzerland, Solaic in France and Shave & Gibson Africard, South Africa.

Mr. Vrancart said the association affords its members more visibility and control in a heavily regulated industry.

As Visa- and MasterCard-approved credit card suppliers, producers must follow strict standards in terms of design, manufacture and security. "We provide recommendations and comments back to Visa and MasterCard as to the viability of new standards they want to place on the industry," said Mr. Vrancart.

He also mentioned that the association takes an active approach to rule-making, working with groups like the International Standards Organization, a body that sets card standards, and the Vinyl Institute, researching card recycling programs and other environmental issues.

Card manufacturers are principal voting members of the group, paying $2,000 annual fees. Members also include manufacturers of unsecured cards.

Also encouraged, like card issuers, to join as associate members are suppliers of materials, equipment, and components. Associate members pay $1,500.

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