First USA Paymentech Inc. is putting credit cards in the hands of companies that barter goods and services.

The unit of First USA Inc. said it will issue commercial Visa cards for Itex Corp., Portland, Ore., the largest barter exchange company in the United States. Itex will make the cards available to its 30,000 member businesses.

"Itex provides a way for companies to utilize alternative ways of doing commerce," said Mary Dees, senior vice president of product marketing and sales for First USA Paymentech, Dallas. "Itex serves the small-business community, and that's why we were interested. We provide a full-utility business card payment product that helps."

Itex is the second corporate client First USA Paymentech has landed recently; it also signed up Northern Trust Co. Analysts say First USA Paymentech is trying to make inroads into the still untapped commercial card market.

"First USA Paymentech has been charged with growing the commercial card," said Moshe Orenbuch, analyst for Sanford C. Bernstein. He added that there are issuers like American Express and First Bank System, but "no one else is making a compelling thrust that way."

The commercial card, which will be issued through First USA Financial Services, Salt Lake City, is a combination of a purchasing and travel and entertainment card. It will offer an interest rate of 14.65% and carries no annual fee. Benefits include negotiated discounts for printing services, office supplies, car rentals, and hotels, among other things.

Itex, a public company, acts as the broker for retailers and corporations that want to exchange goods and services using private Itex dollars.

Businesses make the exchange using an on-line system called Barterwire, where each member has an account that is either credited or debited according to whether a service or good is bought or sold.

"There are two fundamental goals for our customers," said Michael Neal, vice president of marketing for Itex, "to increase their sales and conserve their cash by helping them to spend trade dollars on things they otherwise would have spent cash on."

Having a commercial card, he said, "is one more financial tool for our clients, who can use it to become more competitive and increase their market share."

Paul Suplizio, chief executive officer of the International Reciprocal Trade Association, a nonprofit organization based in Alexandria, Va., that tracks barter exchange companies, said Itex has sustained increased sales volume, and is now in the position of offering ancillary incentives, such as a credit card.

In 1995, Itex had revenues of $24 million, a 60% increase over 1994.

Itex customers are charged a 5% transaction fee if they pay using the company's Automat system, which uses point of sale machines to take payments through electronic funds transfer or the use of major credit cards. Members are charged a 6% fee if they pay by check.

Although Mr. Neal said the incentives are still being worked out for the card program, they may include a rebate to its cardholding members in the form of trade dollars.

Mary Martin, of Hamilton-Martin, in Long Beach, N.Y. one of two analysts who follow Itex Corp., said the new card will help the member businesses as well as Itex.

"Itex will loan trade dollars to help a business get going. It's a boon to small businesses," said Ms. Martin, who also works as a consultant for Itex.

Ms. Martin said in addition to Itex trade dollars, member companies now can also qualify for credit cards to raise capital. She added that Itex will get a percentage of balances, which could be a substantial source of income.

First USA Inc., the parent company for First USA Paymentech, processed $24.6 billion in credit card sales in 1995. It has 12.9 million card holders and $17.5 billion in outstandings.

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