Fleet Financial Group's agreement to buy $1.3 billion of credit card receivables from Household International Inc. is only the latest indication of the Boston-based company's national aspirations.
The deal, announced last week, is "a further verification that we want to be a player in this industry," said Joseph W. Saunders, chairman and chief executive officer of Fleet Credit Card Services of Horsham, Pa.
"When all the smoke clears in the market, we'll be there, and we'll be one of the biggest," he said.
Fleet entered the top 10 last year by purchasing Advanta Corp.'s $10.5 billion retail credit card unit. It currently has $16 billion of receivables.
More bulk was added this year, when Fleet bought $600 million of card assets from Crestar Financial Corp.
The accounts Fleet bought from Household-Mr. Saunders' former employer- have healthy credit scores. Nearly half were signed up through a platinum card offer in early 1997, and the rest are accounts in good standing that were opened before 1994.
"We were interested in the creditworthiness of the portfolio," Mr. Saunders said.
Having spent 12 years at Household International before joining Fleet in January, and having risen to head of the credit services division there, Mr. Saunders said he "understands the history of the accounts and how they've been handled."
James Shanahan, a consultant in the Newark, Del., office of Business Dynamics Consulting Inc., said Mr. Saunders' inside view might lead him to "understand (the portfolio) is worth more than Household thinks."
Mr. Saunders said Fleet continues to prowl for acquisitions.
A spokesman for Household, based in Prospect Heights, Ill., said the sale was part of a strategy to shed "undifferentiated" card accounts and focus on cobranded and affinity programs.
The centerpiece of Household's $16.4 billion portfolio is the General Motors MasterCard, with more than eight million cardholders. Other Household programs include the AFL-CIO Union Privilege card, and the Goldfish card, issued in England with a British utility.
"We are working on an effort to improve the profitability of our credit card business overall and there are certain credit programs that" do not fit in, said the spokesman, Craig Streem.
Thomas Facciola, an analyst at Lehman Brothers in New York, said he does not see Household exiting the card business.
"They said if some of their business wasn't profitable, they would just sell off those pieces," Mr. Facciola said.
Fleet "may have picked up a very nice piece of business at a very nice price," said Mr. Shanahan. "When Fleet hired Joe Saunders, it was widely understood that they were going to grow that business and that a lot of the growth would come through portfolio acquisitions."