The Signature Group, a direct mail marketer in Schaumburg Ill., has acquired Credit Card Sentinel's North American operations.
With the purchase of the consumer card registration service from DataCard Service of Minneapolis, Signature becomes the second-largest company offering credit card protection in the United States and Canada, with more than five million customers.
The largest, SafeCard Services Inc., of Cheyenne, Wyo., serves approximately 14 million people.
Credit Card Sentinel, like its main competitor, provides protection for lost or stolen credit cards. Upon discovering the loss, consumers call an 800 number and Sentinel immediately notities all credit card issuers.
Sentinel can provide consumers with emergency cash and airline tickets, lost-luggage protection, and indemnity against purchases made on stolen cards. The basic service costs $9 a year.
Dick Gallagher, Signature president and chief operating officer, said in a release that Sentinel adds a large untapped customer base and provides entry to the Canadian market, with its nearly one million Canadian members and relationships with banks and retailers there.
Signature is owned by Chicago-based Montgomery Ward and markets to Wards' 12 million active credit card accounts as well as to clients of First Chicago Corp., Citibank, GE Capital, and Firestone and to members of the National Association of Female Executives, among others.
Signature provides services such as dining cards, auto clubs, dental plans, supplemental insurance, and credit card registration.
Sarina Butler, Montgomery Ward spokeswoman, said that Signature was providing card registry services to Montgomery Ward customers and others before the Sentinel purchase. It plans to continue to make strategic acquisitions when the pieces fit.
"We have a vast network with banks, retailers, and institutions," said Ms. Butler "This is a business we can do very well in, so of course we intend to grow it."
Ms. Butler acknowledged that there would be natural competition with SafeCard. Citiband, for example, is one of SafeCard's biggest customers.
The Signature Group is expected to realize revenues of $500 million in 1994.