A reenergized Citicorp is expecting credit card accounts to increase more than 10% this year.
Roberta J. Arena, executive vice president in charge of Citicorp's North American and European card businesses, gave the projection Tuesday in presentations to securities analysts and news media.
She said Citicorp, which has about 20 million card accounts, is already halfway toward the anticipated growth of 2.5 million cards this year. Meanwhile, loan balances are expected to grow 8%.
Ms. Arena, who has headed the nation's biggest MasterCard and Visa operation for six months, painted a picture of an industry enjoying robust profits and growth, with Citicorp and its affiliates sharing in the prosperity more than in the last few years.
Poised for a Comeback
Citibank, which rocked the industry late last year by dropping the annual fee on its classic and preferred accounts, is poised for a comeback after losing market share between the middle of 1992 and midyear 1993.
"A lot of this flap that the big competitors are feeding off of their own flab is not true," said Ms. Arena, emphasizing that the U.S. market is growing.
"We want our [market] share back," she said.
She estimated that if the industry continues to grow at the current pace, aggregate credit card receivables could rise within five years to $375 billion from $250 billion.
Focus Had Been International
Ms. Arena, a 20-year veteran of Citicorp, had focused on international areas until she moved to the New York headquarters at the beginning of this year as general manager of U.S. bank cards. From 1990 to 1993, she was the regional business manager for Citibank's cards in Europe.
In the U.S. post, she succeeded Richard Srednicki, who heads Citibank's card operations in Germany.
In March, Ms. Arena was promoted to the new position of executive vice president overseeing the European and U.S. card businesses.
Ms. Arena intends to expand the card business abroad. The bank has opened one million accounts in Spain, Greece, Germany, Belgium, and Canada since 1989.
Emphasis on New Countries
Citibank is the No. 1 bank card issuer in Greece and the Asia-Pacific region. Ms. Arena said the bank planned to focus on raising its standing in Germany, where it is the fourth-largest issuer, with 100,000 accounts, and on penetrating new countries.
"These are young businesses," said Ms. Arena. "We want to add five million new accounts over the next four years, mostly by adding new countries."
In the meantime, Citibank is examining ways to reduce its operating costs abroad. Ms. Arena said the bank would move its processing operations in Europe, which are currently being handled out of Frankfurt, to South Dakota.
Ms. Arena's take on the industry as a whole is that competition is healthy but not "irrational." To illustrate, she pointed out that at the end of June, 13 of the top 18 card issuers increased their interest rates after the prime rate rose 125 basis points. Three issuers did not raise rates, though they had the option, and two did not because of contractual agreements with their customers.
Consolidation of the credit card industry will continue, said Ms. Arena, with the biggest issuers getting bigger.
The top 18 issuers, according to Citibank research based on MasterCard and Visa statistics, will control an estimated 70% of the card industry's total accounts by yearend, up from 56% in 1990.
She said the industry was dominated by two types of competitors: those offering "brandname and value-back" products, and those competing on the basis of price, affinity relationships, and gold-card benefits. Citibank's Ford Motor Co. and American Airlines card programs fit into the former category.