For the second time within four months, First Union Corp. has agreed to sell $1.1 billion of credit card loans to Providian Financial Corp. of San Francisco.

The second of the definitive agreements, announced Wednesday and expected to be consummated May 1, underscores the different directions these banks are heading in.

First Union is pulling back from a national marketing strategy that lifted it near the card industry's top tier.

Providian, a spinoff of an insurance company that has taken its place among the leading monoline lenders, said the new purchase would vault it into the bank card top 10.

The announcement came about a week after Fred M. Winkler announced his resignation as First Union Corp.'s credit card chief, effective April 30.

Mr. Winkler, 54, executive vice president of the customer direct access division, joined the Charlotte, N.C.-based banking company five years ago and "built the card business into a national one," said Jack M. Antonini, executive vice president of the bank's consumer group.

First Union is focusing more tightly on its East Coast "footprint" and emphasizing cross-sales to its banking customers. Mr. Winkler, who was also associated with the Internet strategy that goes by the First Union trademark Cyberbanking, will be looking for new opportunities that take advantage of his nationwide marketing expertise, Mr. Antonini said.

Mr. Winkler was not available for an interview.

On his watch, First Union's direct-mail marketing business flourished. First Union's purchase last year of Signet Banking Corp. was thought to add considerable opportunities for national solicitations.

But industry observers see First Union refining its marketing strategies, paying closer attention to its home geography and its own customer data bases.

Mr. Antonini said cross-selling opportunities are substantial. When it completes the purchase of CoreStates Financial Corp. of Philadelphia, First Union would have 15 million to 16 million customers, of which only about 20% now have a First Union credit card, he said.

"Fred has done a wonderful job and we are sad to see him go," said Mr. Antonini. "He developed on-line banking channels and helped us to build the relationship we have with Nova" Information Systems in the merchant processing business.

Mr. Winkler brought strong mass-marketing expertise from AT&T Universal Card Services Corp., where he had worked since 1989. Before that he was president and chief executive officer of Citicorp's South Dakota credit card bank.

Mr. Antonini, who moved to First Union from First USA Inc. last August, said, "We will have a bigger emphasis on cross-selling additional products and services to our customers. That makes a big difference in terms of solidifying our relationship with customers and dealing with the age-old problem of attrition."

He said with 2,700 branches in 12 states, First Union would have the largest banking network on the East Coast and wants to take full advantage of that physical link to customers.

Mr. Antonini said the bank will also continue to pursue opportunities on-line and through other outlets like a nationwide home equity unit.

"We have a very good experience with our core customer," Mr. Antonini said. "They perform well below industry averages in terms of credit losses and therefore overall returns are very high."

First Union began shifting gears in January when it sold the initial $1.1 billion of "noncore" receivables, 17% of its card portfolio, to Providian.

"This is a portion of business that we don't have an opportunity to cross-sell additional products to," Mr. Antonini said.

Providian said the two transactions would result in the addition of nearly one million unsecured accounts, an increase of approximately 30% over yearend 1997. The San Francisco company's total managed loan portfolio is $12 billion.

Providian chairman and chief executive officer Shailesh J. Mehta said the company had a "very positive" experience with the first portfolio it bought from First Union. The second package is said to be very similar, playing to Providian's strengths.

The first deal, "coupled with our core competencies in segmentation, activation, and risk management, gives us confidence that this transaction will increase shareholder value," Mr. Mehta said.

Providian said it will be "immediately accretive to 1998 earnings."

The selloff "completes our previously announced plans to reposition our portfolio," Mr. Antonini said Wednesday. "We will continue to build our credit card and other consumer business by deepening relationships with customers within First Union's region."

"First Union is continuing to grow through acquisition and there are a lot of opportunities internally," said Russ Schoper, president of Business Developments International, Alpharetta, Ga.

Mr. Winkler "came in to build a premier card organization and he put all the pieces together," Mr. Schoper said. "Now they (First Union) are going to refocus inward and maybe he feels it is time to move and do something else."

"The credit card business has changed," said David Stumpf, an analyst at St. Louis-based A.G. Edwards. He said bankers are realizing that putting a credit card in the hands of consumers does not necessarily mean they will sign up for other services.

In the wake of Mr. Winkler's departure, David Nole and Keith Myers will assume his responsibilities, both reporting to Mr. Antonini.

Mr. Myers, 46, joined First Union in September 1997, and is the senior vice president and chief operating officer for the consumer group. He worked with Mr. Antonini at First USA and USAA Federal Savings Bank.

Mr. Myers is responsible for all electronic banking products and back- office functions including collections, technology, and transaction services for the consumer group.

Since joining First Union in 1996, Mr. Nole, 38, has helped build credit-scoring and bankruptcy models. He is now senior vice president of credit cards.

Previously he was head of consumer lending at Citibank's Diners Club unit and held risk management positions at Advanta Corp.

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