First USA Inc. will offer credit cards for National Discount Brokers.

The Dallas-based monoline company said last week that it would begin issuing platinum and gold Visa cards for the securities firm in September.

Two other card companies have already waded into the trading pool: In March, MBNA Corp. and Travelers Bank introduced premium products aimed at investors.

MBNA, of Newark, Del., began offering a card that rewarded Quick & Reilly customers with discounts on trade commissions. MBNA said its intent was to boost its platinum portfolio.

Travelers Bank, also of Newark, Del., issued a platinum card with a low- end interest rate of 13.5% for clients of Smith Barney Inc., a Travelers affiliate.

National Discount Brokers is also going the low-rate route-with no additional rewards. The no-fee card carries an interest rate of 5.9% for five months, which then climbs to a fixed 15.99%.

Issuers don't always have to give rebates to make cobranding programs work, said Stephen D. Drees, principal of Westborough, Mass.-based Strategic Management Services.

Mr. Drees pointed to the success of Chase Manhattan Bank's Wal-Mart MasterCard, which offers no rewards but is competitively priced.

Between its launch in October 1996 and April 1997, Wal-Mart MasterCard had netted over a million cardholders and $650 million in outstanding debt.

In that case, as in other programs, a strong brand name may be enough to attract new cardholders, Mr. Drees said. Also important are the demographics of the target audience.

William Karsh, chairman of New York-based National Discount Brokers, said most of his customers are male-as they are at most securities firms- but 40% of new accounts are for women.

The typical client of the three-year-old brokerage earns $60,000 to $80,000 a year and has a net worth ranging from $120,000 to $150,000, Mr. Karsh said.

The upscale profile might suggest that the average customer is more rate-sensitive than discount-sensitive, Mr. Drees said.

Before this deal, as a correspondent of Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette Inc., National Discount Brokers was involved in a debit card program that combined checking account and money market features through Banc One Corp. of Ohio, which completed its acquisition of First USA on Friday.

The cobranding arrangement "gives us the opportunity to have our own brand on a card product," Mr. Karsh said. "It enhances the value we give to our customers and allows them to feel better about doing business with us."

Mr. Karsh said the company would market to its more than 100,000 customers through a quarterly newsletter and through the Internet, on both its own and First USA's Web sites.

"Anyone can get a regular card," Mr. Karsh said, referring to the fact that he will only be marketing gold and platinum versions. "We wanted to offer a higher-end card."

Mr. Drees said the distinctions are negligible. "There is nothing a platinum card offers that a gold card hasn't already offered," he said. "But platinum looks different and it's a new twist on trying to get the attention of consumers inundated with credit card offers.

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