Until recently, Bank One Corp.s First USA card-issuing subsidiary was a pioneer in Internet innovations.
First USA of Wilmington, Del. popped up in more banner ads than just about any other issuer, struck exclusive marketing deals with the best-known Web sites, and was ranked at the top of most lists of online credit card account sign-ups. But as a symbol of how much has changed in the past year, First USA recently became one of the last of the top 10 issuers to offer a branded digital wallet for its cardholders to use in filling out forms for shopping online. It will also offer online balance transfers for the first time to existing cardholders, with discounted promotional interest rates for its best customers.
First USA spokesman Jeff Unkle said it will also look at software that generates one-time-use credit card numbers for shopping online, though he did not say whether the company intends to offer the service.
The First USA eWallet and balance transfers are being promoted in statement messages, banner ads, and at the companys Web site. The launching comes late for holiday shopping, but First USA will not lose customers interest because of that, Mr. Unkle said.
This is something they can use all the time, he said. They will shop online all year round.
The eWallet is supplied by Gator.com, a Redwood City, Calif., digital wallet software vendor that claims its product has been downloaded the most times more than 8.5 million onto personal computers.
First USA is Gator.coms second issuer client. NextCard Inc. of San Francisco, an Internet-oriented Visa issuer, began offering a Gator wallet, called Concierge, in 1999. That deal ended this year, and NextCard then chose Obongo Inc, also of Redwood City, to be its wallet provider.
One of NextCards reasons for the switch was to gain greater access to information about consumers surfing habits, which the Gator product does not allow.
We wanted to be able to understand where Concierge users were surfing, said Lisa Subramanian, NextCards vice president of e-commerce. Then if we chose to use it, we could for cross-marketing other services, she said.
First USA put Gator through a lengthy selection process, said Scott G. Eagle, Gator.coms vice president of marketing.
They did research. They looked at our architecture; they looked at our site, he said. In the end, a few things stood out, said Mr. Eagle. We dont require merchant adoption, and we work everywhere, including on sites that require passwords, he said.
First USA also decided it wanted a wallet that would exist on the consumers personal computer rather than one that would require shoppers to visit the issuers Web site when they wish to make a purchase.
We looked at both and had to decide what made the most sense to customers for ease of use and alleviating concerns, said Mr. Unkle. He said that customers expressed a preference for a digital wallet that keeps all their information on their own computers.
Theodore Iacobuzio, senior analyst at the TowerGroup research firm in Needham, Mass., and a follower of the digital wallet industry, was skeptical that a form-filling wallet would impress consumers.
Form-fill alone is not enough of a value-add to propel wallets into a mass market, he said. He predicted that wallets that combine features would eventually have more appeal to consumers.
Once that happens, Mr. Iacobuzio predicted, wallets will play a major role in Internet shopping. Gator.com has an advantage in the race, he said. I believe wallets will help e-commerce grow, and Gator has an impressive track record, with more installs than anybody out there.
Mr. Eagle said Gator.com will add features to its wallet, beginning shortly with a comparison-shopping feature, but he would not say whether it would add one-time-use online credit card numbers.
It is a great feature, he said. But will consumers ever use it? When you start to get to actual usage, what consumers want doesnt necessarily correspond to heavy usage.