People's Bank's credit card guru, Ronald T. Urquhart, has retired.
Mr. Urquhart, a senior vice president, was credited with doubling the international business of the Bridgeport, Conn., thrift in the last year.
He has been succeeded by Carlos R. Mello, People's controller of corporate finance.
In 1985, Mr. Urquhart launched what has become a $3 billion card operation for People's. After heading the thrift's successful U.S. business for several years, he moved to the United Kingdom two years ago to establish People's card presence there.
About a year ago, Mr. Urquhart was assigned exclusively to the international business, which is limited to the United Kingdom. The thrift's card U.K. business has grown from $50 million in outstanding loans at yearend 1996 to $100 million today.
Mr. Urquhart, 54, who took an early retirement package, said he will spend the rest of the summer deciding what to do next. He moved back to Connecticut to be with his family, who did not live with him in England. He said it would have been "disruptive" to the current management in Bridgeport if he had returned to work there.
During Mr. Urquhart's stint in the United Kingdom, Mark K. Vitelli was given responsibility for the U.S. card operation and was named senior vice president of cards. Previously Mr. Vitelli reported to Mr. Urquhart.
Mr. Mello, 38, joined People's in 1987 as vice president in charge of corporate accounting. While he has no direct operational experience in credit cards, he said he has close ties to the card business.
Mr. Mello was part of the executive team working with the Bank of England, which approved People's application to issue credit cards in the United Kingdom. He also helped develop People's card securitization strategies.
Mr. Mello attributes the growth of the thrift's card portfolio in the United Kingdom to its direct mail and advertising campaign, which is focused on attracting women and young people. One mailer features a feminist cartoon called Penelope.
Mark Sievewright, managing director of Payment Systems International Ltd., a research consulting firm, said People's is seen as an American bank in the United Kingdom, one whose "brand awareness is coming up to scale through print advertising and direct mail."
People's is also targeting consumers who carry a balance. "That segment had not been catered to by U.K. banks," Mr. Mello said.
But People's has plenty of competition for that market from U.S. companies that have operations in the United Kingdom. Among the American players there are MBNA Corp., Advanta Corp., and Household International - all with larger businesses than People's.
Only Capital One, which launched its card operation around the same time as People's, is close in size to the Connecticut thrift, said Mr. Sievewright.
People's U.K. strategy mirrors its U.S. approach. It competes on the basis of price, offering a card with a standard interest rate of 14.4%. But so far it has not adopted the popular American approach to card marketing of tiered pricing.
"We may not be the lowest provider (in the United Kingdom), but the key is the consistency of the total offer," said Mr. Mello.
"Some offers may be attractive for the first six months," but People's pricing remains low even after a teaser rate expires, he said.
Mr. Sievewright said his firm's research shows that U.K. consumers are interested in switching to low-cost providers regardless of whether they have other relationships with the bank. The U.S. and U.K. card markets differ in that U.K. consumers generally have all of their financial relationships with one bank, but that is changing, said Mr. Sievewright.
Mr. Mello expects to be headquartered at People's U.K. operation, where he is the only American, for the next three to five years.