Pity the poor credit card company. Not long ago, profits from the ones owned by banks were propping up their grateful parents, and the monolines- First USA, Capital One Financial Corp., Advanta Corp.-were the darlings of Wall Street. The concept of leveraging data to make smart decisions- pioneered by card companies and taken to a new level by monolines-drew admiration and envy in other parts of retail banking.

Then Bank of New York startled the banking community with its June 1996 special loan-loss provision of $350 million. Other issuers followed suit. In March 1997, Advanta reported a $20 million loss in the first quarter and a chargeoff rate of over 7%. This loss was the first in the company's history; Advanta's card business has since been sold to Fleet Financial Group.

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