Chase Manhattan Bank has come up with a novel enhancement for credit cards-one that helps customers read the fine print.

It may not quite be what consumer advocates have in mind when they criticize the way banks disclose pricing and other details, but it undeniably breaks ground in what marketers call the customer proposition.

Through a combination of innovative plastic design and targeted marketing, Chase will soon begin offering to people who wear reading glasses a MasterCard or Visa card with a built-in plastic magnifying lens.

No longer would cardholders have to fish for their specs or go through contortions to read restaurant checks and attached sales drafts.

They could use the little magnifier in the Chase card. And while the card is out, Chase figures they might well use it for payment.

The idea is so unorthodox as to sound almost silly. But Chase is pulling out all the marketing stops, complete with a product manager assigned to what it has dubbed the Lens Card.

Could this be one of those compelling reasons to choose one bank's card over another's-a reason everyone else overlooked?

Chase Lens Card "will help differentiate us in the marketplace," said Clifford Cook, vice president of product development at the Chase Manhattan Corp. unit, the No. 4 card-issuing bank. "It provides tangible value in a way other than pricing."

"They want you to pull their card out of your wallet," said Lisa Itzkowitz, director of marketing at BAI Global, a Tarrytown, N.Y., firm that tracks credit card offers.

Chase actually bought this idea from a Los Angeles inventor, Alan Finkelstein, who perceived a need for a magnifying lens in credit cards and got a patent to protect his idea.

From when Mr. Finkelstein approached Chase, it took the bank four years to "perfect the product," said Mara Kelly, a Chase assistant vice president and Lens Card product manager.

Chase acquired exclusive rights to offer this product for two years. Print and direct mail advertising is supposed to start next month.

In promotional materials Chase highlights some situations for deploying the Lens Card:

"You're at the car rental office. But you've forgotten your reading glasses. What could be more handy than a card that helps you read the fine print, then lets you charge your car?"

"Have you ever wanted to buy flowers over the phone? How convenient would it be to find the number quickly in your local phone book, then charge a bouquet right away?"

The target market is people 39 and older, Ms. Kelly said, because "60% of that population wear reading glasses."

Matthew Auriemma, vice president of Back Pages Inc., a Westbury, N.Y., firm that specializes in patented credit card products, said thousands of inventors propose partnerships with banks to market their ideas. Many are quickly and rightly dismissed, but he said he views the Chase Lens card as useful.

"It is a new utility for a 30-year-old product that has not been thought of before," said Mr. Auriemma, who was not involved in launching the card.

By comparison, he said, a recent patent filing for a safe-like box that stores credit cards and requires a personal identification number to open it is foolish. When the wrong PIN is entered, the box automatically demagnetizes the cards.

"What would happen if the owner of the box entered the wrong code?" Mr. Auriemma asked.

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