First Chicago Corp. is bucking the downsizing trend.

While many credit card issuers emphasize their streamlining and reengineering programs, which usually come across as reductions in the work force, First Chicago said it plans to hire more than 400 new employees this year.

This may be heartening to the victims of recent layoffs, such as the 6,000 that American Express Co. has said it is letting go.

Most of First Chicago's hires will work in a new data processing and customer service facility at its credit card base in Elgin, Ill.

Scott P. Marks, executive vice president of First Chicago and chairman of the bank's credit card subsidiary, FCC National Bank of Wilmington, Del., has said the company will likely open another facility within the next few years.

That facility would probably be in the West, a spokesman said, which would represent a geographical diversification.

In addition to Elgin and Wilmington, First Chicago has credit card operations in Uniondale, N.Y., providing services for more than 12 million customers.

It was just a matter of time before First Chicago opened another facility, said the spokesman, citing the 100,000 payments and more than 57,000 customer calls that the Elgin site handles daily.

"With that many payments coming in, we are running to the post office eight times a day," he said.

Strong and steady business growth is fueling the expansion.

In each of the last three years, FCC's flagship product, First Card, has added more than two million accounts. Average managed receivables grew 20% in 1994, and outstandings of the current 13.5 million cardmembers surpassed $13 billion this year.

FCC is the fourth-largest bank credit card issuer. It is also the largest in gold cards, with 10 million as of June 1994 in the United States. FCC also issues the United MileagePlus card and the Marriott Hotel affinity card.

In its annual report, First Chicago predicted that "the credit card industry will enjoy sustained volume growth of 12% to 15% annually, and we anticipate that our credit card business will equal or exceed that rate of growth for the foreseeable future."

"During 1995, we have been aggressively hiring for a variety of positions at all levels," said Richard L. Thomas, First Chicago's chairman.

First Chicago entered the credit card business in 1966 with fewer than 300 employees. Today, the Elgin site alone has 2,500 employees, and Mr. Thomas projects that by the year 2000, Elgin will employ 3,000.

"An important part of what we do is give high-quality customer service and we achieve that through human touch and technology," said the spokesman.


Mr. Mark joined the Visa International board of directors at its recent annual meeting in Milan.

Mr. Marks, who has served eight years on the Visa U.S.A. regional board, became one of eight bankers from the United States who also sit on the international board.

The Visa International directors come from each of the association's six regional groups, including Visa U.S.A. and Visa Canada. The chairman is from the Europe-Middle East-Africa region - Peter Ellwood, group chief executive of TSB Bank in Britain.

Mr. Marks occupies a board seat vacated by Donald L. McWhorter, president and chief financial officer of Banc One Corp., who recently resigned.

Visa spokeswoman Susan Murdy said Mr. Marks' board colleagues selected him because of his "experience, contributions, and length of service."

"I am looking forward to the opportunity to work with members from around the world with a likewise keen interest in how international payment systems are evolving," Mr. Marks said.

He joined First Chicago's credit card business in 1983, prior to which he was a senior vice president at American Express Co. Mr. Marks also worked as a consultant with Arthur D. Little, Index Systems, and McKinsey & Co.

Mr. Marks said he will be able, through the international board, "to participate in discussions and reviews of rule-making and initiatives" such as the standards for smart cards now being developed by Visa, MasterCard, and Europay. - Valerie Block

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