When William F. Keenan decided it was time to leave the credit card business, he leaped.
Like many ex-bankers, Mr. Keenan became a consultant to the industry. But he doesn't just want to help sell cards the old-fashioned way. He wants to revolutionize the process - or help complete the one-on-one micromarketing revolution that technology has made possible.
In September, after serving in bank marketing and credit card positions since the mid-1980s, Mr. Keenan formed Convergence Corporation International in Delaware to spread his ideas.
Convergence would be a holding company, marshaling venture capital for investments in marketing, consulting, information services, and related activities.
Its first start-up: Creative Solutions Inc., which Mr. Keenan loftily calls an advertising and marketing agency "for a new age," for the "convergence" of new media and technologies that he said requires new approaches to reaching consumers.
He plans to launch a consulting arm, Convergence Group, next year.
He has surrounded himself with a team experienced in building and mining data bases, currently among the most sought-after skills in financial marketing. And he is willing to divulge the name of one blue-chip client - GE Capital Services - though he won't reveal the nature of the work Creative Solutions is doing for General Electric Co.'s financial services subsidiary.
"It is our training that sets Creative Solutions apart from companies like Ogilvy and Mather or BBDO," said Mr. Keenan. "We have a very strong discipline in advertising, but we also understand the banking industry."
Mr. Keenan, 39, has been in the middle of the "convergence" since at least April 1993, when he jumped from First Omni Bank, First Maryland Bancorp's credit card subsidiary, to U S West, the regional telecommunications company.
At U S West Communications, he oversaw a cobranded credit card program and began exploring smart card technology, becoming active in the Smart Card Forum. Following the French model, U S West became the first U.S. telephone company to test-market smart cards for pay telephones.
Mr. Keenan joined Natwest Bancorp's Delaware affiliate after two years at U S West. He opened Creative Solutions in Hockessing, Del., in part to capitalize on that state's heavy population of credit card issuers, many of which he knows well.
As managing director of card services at First Omni, Mr. Keenan's focused approach to account segmentation produced a "huge jump in sales and outstandings," said Michele Turkel, president of Spectrum International Consulting Corp., Scarsdale, N.Y.
Mr. Keenan started the new venture to seek "an even more exciting challenge," he said. "I wanted the opportunity to take something from nothing and work through all the clutter in the marketplace to make it profitable."
Creative Solutions aims to make micromarketing - the targeting of offers to specific, identifiable customers - a priority for financial, telecommunications, and entertainment companies doing business on the Internet.
"Customers don't want to be treated as a flock," Mr. Keenan said.
But not all financial institutions may be ready for such advanced concepts, said James L. Accomando, president of Accomando Consulting Inc. in Fairfield, Conn.
"Institutions like MBNA and First USA would be great targets of opportunity for Creative Solutions," said Mr. Accomando, adding that he admired Mr. Keenan's entrepreneurism. "They are very much into niche or segmented marketing."
"Micromarketing is not for everyone," Mr. Accomando added. "It's an extremely qualitative and subjective business, and a creative department is only as good as its last creation."
"Marketing to a 'segment of one' has been a hot phrase in the industry for at least five years," said A. Christian Fredrick, managing director of financial services for Dove Associates Inc. in Boston.
Most institutions are trying to develop this ideal concept," he added, "but the massive amount of data required to successfully operate such a system has made progress slow."
"Financial institutions are going to have to treat customers individually, and micromanagement is certainly one of the ways to do it," said Ms. Turkel.
Mr. Keenan's equity partners include Kevin B. Foley, head of the customer satisfaction group, and Kim M. Paternoster, responsible for creative and production management. The two worked with Mr. Keenan at Natwest.
His brother, Christopher J. Keenan, is head of project management. Beyond that, titles are deemphasized, reflecting William Keenan's philosophy.
"We operate in circles of leadership, because the customer is more important than the positions we hold," Mr. Keenan said.
He is an avid scuba diver who recently began taking guitar lessons. He also speaks conversational Japanese.
"The language is difficult, but if I don't practice regularly, I'll lose it," he explains. He got the inspiration of having a titleless company from Japanese culture.
Outwardly quiet and unassuming - Christopher Keenan said one of his brother's "best traits" is modesty - William became animated when a recent conversation turned to the question of how the Convergence companies will fit into the financial services industry.
"The whole idea of brick-and-mortar banking and traditional channels of distribution for financial services is under attack from a number of different directions," said Mr. Keenan.
He said companies are getting into new businesses and forming alliances - like MasterCard International's recent acquisition of the Mondex smart card venture - that would have been unheard of a few years ago.
Because the U.S. card industry comprises only a fraction of a $7 trillion economy, he said, "there is a tremendous opportunity to help the banking system attack cash and checks, and I want to be there."
"Banks also need to identify who their best customers are and differentiate them with separate marketing tactics," Mr. Foley added.
Ms. Turkel described Mr. Foley and Mr. Keenan as perfect complements: "Bill is very strategic and Kevin a lot more tactical. Between the two of them, the job gets done well."
Ms. Paternoster will work on creating and producing direct mail, as well as on client relationships. Given her more numbers-oriented background in mutual fund accounting and acquisitions of card accounts, she gains "the chance to be creative, and I know how to get measurable results."
Mr. Keenan said he will advise clients that "it is better to compete with yourself and be one step ahead of the competition than have the competition steal your market position by competing against you and your traditional means of doing business."