First Data Corp. has introduced a product that lets banks make instant decisions on credit card applications submitted through the Internet.

The few card companies that developed such a capability - notably, NextCard Inc. and First USA, a subsidiary of Bank One Corp.-say it has been popular and has conferred an advantage over competitors.

The First Data program, Internet Account Acquisition Service, lets banks of all sizes offer what has until now been considered an advanced feature. A bank could post a card application on its Web site and approve or disapprove applicants in a minute or less. If the bank chooses, approved customers could immediately be issued an account number and granted a provisional line of credit for on-line shopping.

"We couple the Net interface with the ability to provide instant decisioning and instant line of credit, and an ability to transfer balances, which makes the issuers very interested," said Henry Tsuei, vice president of new product development for First Data Resources, an Omaha- based subsidiary of the Atlanta processing giant.

"We allow them to book accounts on a near real-time basis," he said. "The full package is going to play well into any issuer's Internet strategy."

Mr. Tsuei said "even some of the most sophisticated card issuers" are still encouraging people who visit their Web sites to submit applications by telephone or mail. Others accept on-line applications but take days or weeks to process them.

Many larger banks are developing Internet application capabilities in- house or through vendors, but smaller banks "don't have the luxury of starting something on their own," Mr. Tsuei said.

When it comes to making instant credit decisions on-line, First USA and NextCard "are on one side of the continuum, and then there's everybody else," Mr. Tsuei said. First Data "levels the playing field for the rest of the client base."

Applicants would apply through a bank's Web site, where they could view card terms and information about security and privacy. Completed applications would be encrypted and forwarded on to a fraud screen and credit analysis process based on parameters defined by the issuer.

Internet Account Acquisition Service allows all banks to "participate in e-commerce in terms of account acquisition," Mr. Tsuei said. "How well they market their card offerings is primarily up to them."

First Data operates a separate business that helps banks to offer Internet-based access to customers' deposit accounts. Over time, Mr. Tseui said, he anticipates "a convergence" between on-line credit card account functions and other customer services on the Internet.

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