MONTEREY, Calif -- If John Gerbino and Warren Wilcox have their way, marketers everywhere will think like credit card executives.
Mr. Gerbino and Mr. Wilcox, who practiced their vision of credit card marketing at Household Bank, have joined Fair, Isaac & Co. to proselytize it.
The two young executives are convinced that the predictive modeling and target marketing techniques that Household used to build its credit card empire can apply across a broad spectrum of industries.
"Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Corp. are accumulating information about the payment histories of huge credit card customer bases," said Mr. Wilcox, who was executive vice president in charge of new product development at Household when it launched the General Motors MasterCard last year.
He asked, "What about the notion of using that information to do a better job of predicting auto buying?"
Or what about offering predictive models to help long-distance phone companies prevent customers from switching to other carriers? And what about adapting the techniques to the mutual fund industry, which "has been trying to crack direct marketing business?"
For Mr. Gerbino, 37, and Mr. Wilcox, 35, these questions are more than an intellectual exercise. In September they joined Fair Isaac -- a move that caught some of their credit card peers by surprise -- to put such ideas into practice.
Their business unit, Fair Isaac Development Group, is starting out small in Monterey, Calif, more than an hour's drive down the coast from Fair Isaac headquarters in San Rafael.
So far, the development group consists of Mr. Gerbino and Mr. Wilcox -- who have chosen not to take titles -- and office manager Susan White, who was Mr. Wilcox's secretary at Household Bank in Salinas, Calif. A few more people will be hired over the next six months, Mr. Wilcox said.
The office is in a renovated home called the Old Perry House. Built in 1860 for a sea captain, it was sold and renovated in 1967. It has a garden and carriage house out back where clients can be entertained.
Mr. Wilcox and Mr. Gerbino report to Barrett B. Roach, executive vice president of planning at Fair Isaac. They are working closely with Kenneth M. Rapp, the founder and president of Dynamark, a Minneapolis data processing firm that Fair Isaac acquired last year.
"We're taking a team approach," said Mr. Gerbino. "I've observed that when you have a technology like credit scoring, that only gets you get so far. You have a tool, but how do you use it?"
Combining Tools, Vision
Mr. Gerbino said the team approach will make it possible to combine the, tools available from Fair Isaac and Dynamark with the analysis and vision needed to apply them to new industries.
"The stuff that turns you on kind of changes," said Mr. Wilcox, reflecting on his decision to leave Household. "Early on in the career, it's the blocking and tackling. Then you get into planning, then strategy. "Then, all of a sudden, the thrill comes from being exposed to different people in different industries and thinking creatively about how to improve their businesses," Mr. Wilcox said.
"The motivations for doing this thing run deep," he added. "They're not purely professional."
He pointed out that he, Mr. Gerbino, and Mr. Rapp have formed a close friendship since meeting about 10 years ago. Mr. Wilcox then was with the credit card division of Atlantic Financial, a Pennsylvania thrift; Mr. Gerbino was in an earlier stint at Fair Isaac; and Mr. Rapp had just started Dynamark.
Since the dual departure from Household was announced in the summer, Fair Isaac officials say, the firm has been flooded with phone calls -- many from credit card companies hoping to tap into the magic that Mr. Wilcox and Mr. Gerbino brought to Household.
Mr. Wilcox is best known as the right-hand man of Joseph Saunders, president of Household Credit Services. Mr. Wilcox was in charge of product development when Household introduced the phenomenally successful GM Card and the Ameritech Complete Card, a cobranded venture with the Illinois-based phone company.
In his first tour at Fair Isaac, Mr. Gerbino worked in research and development and was instrumental in developing credit scorecards.
These scorecards revolutionized credit card marketing, enabling banks to target more efficiently, weeding out poor risks and targeting offers to the most profitable customers.
At Household since 1990, Mr. Gerbino held a variety of positions, including executive vice president of credit management. He also helped Household's parent, the financial conglomerate Household International, to coordinate mailings of a wide variety of products. Mr. Wilcox called it "one of the largest data base management tasks in history."
Eye on Retailing, Insurance
Mr. Wilcox said credit card work will be only a small part of his new enterprise. He said the unit is currently working on a confidential assignment for Household Bank and prospecting for assignments in retailing and insurance.
But Mr. Wilcox sees the day when he and Mr. Gerbino arm automobile companies with information about consumer spending habits. That would enable them to market slow-selling vehicles through direct mailings to people identified as good prospects.
He foresees banks using the credit scoring techniques to scour their deposit accounts for prospects for mutual fund sales.
Pointing to the announced merger of Bell Atlantic and Tele-Communications Inc., Mr. Wilcox predicted that interactive advertising on television could be targeted to individuals through their television sets.
It's not all that much of a reach, he said. "That's how bank card executives think every day."