Eager to gain access to well-heeled brokerage customers, credit card issuers are teaming up with securities firms to offer a new breed of premium cards.
MBNA Corp. this week began marketing a platinum Visa card to clients of discount broker Quick & Reilly Inc. And Travelers Bank rolled out its own platinum Visa card, aimed at customers of its brokerage sibling, Smith Barney Inc.
The new cards offer brokerage customers various perks, including high credit lines, detailed reporting, rebates on commissions, and low interest rates. They are designed to appeal to the increasing number of baby boomers who are shifting their financial priorities away from borrowing to investing and savings.
"Customers who invest have a lot in common with customers who qualify for a platinum card," said Dennis Shea, managing director with Auriemma Consulting Group in Westbury, N.Y. "It is a good idea to try and tie the two together."
The marketing of card products to brokerage customers is not completely new. Banc One Corp. first linked a Visa debit card to Merrill Lynch & Co.'s popular cash management accounts in the early 1980s. And Household International has long offered cobranded credit cards to customers of Charles Schwab & Co.
But unlike the newest brokerage card deals, neither of those alliances produced feature-rich platinum cards designed to appeal specifically to consumers who buy and sell stock.
"Investment banking firms have not done a very good job, in terms of data base marketing and data base management," said William F. Keenan, head of Creative Solutions Inc., a consulting and marketing firm in Hockessin, Del. "Aligning with card issuers and putting platinum cards in their customers' hands" is one way to put customer information to work, he added.
The planned merger between Dean Witter, Discover & Co. and Morgan Stanley & Co. has also amplified the possibilities of selling credit cards to brokerage customers. Many observers expect the post-merger company to actively seek to put souped-up Discover cards in its clients' wallets.
MBNA, for its part, is now offering a no-fee Quick & Reilly platinum Visa card that carries an introductory interest rate of 5.9% for six months. The rate then jumps to prime plus 7.4%, currently 15.65%. The Wilmington, Del.-based company is already the second-largest issuer of Visa and MasterCard products.
"Credit cards are part of everyday living, and giving financial incentives is just a way to reward customers' loyalty to Quick & Reilly," said Peter Quick, president of the New York-based discounter.
Quick and Reilly offers customers a card with two rebate options. The first provides a 10% savings coupon for every $1,000 charged or transferred from another card balance. The coupon can be applied to commissions on equity trades at the discount broker. There is no limit on the number of coupons that can be earned.
"I don't think this credit card will make a large contribution to Quick and Reilly's bottom line," said Stephen Jones, an analyst at Value Line in New York. "A customer would have to spend $1,000 to save just $2.80, on an average commission of $28 per transaction."
Alternatively, Quick & Reilly customers can enroll in MBNA's Plus Mile airline discount program for $35 a year. The fee for the first year is waived.
Consumers who do not qualify for the platinum product will be offered a classic card that carries a higher interest rate of prime plus 7.9%, or 16.15%.
"A lot of customers have very substantial accounts with us, but we are also interested in building for our future, and affecting the investor who is new to the market or new to running their own account," said Mr. Quick.
The Smith Barney card will be issued by Travelers Bank, the 44th-largest credit card issuer. Smith Barney and Travelers Bank are both subsidiaries of Travelers Group.
"Our product is tailored to Smith Barney clients, who are typically in their mid-50s, affluent, and highly educated," said Lyndon Keyes, first vice president of marketing at Smith Barney. "We want to supply them a card that is superior to the other platinum cards on the market."
While it doesn't provide a rebate, the Smith Barney card does sport free financing for six months and then a low rate. The interest rate jumps from 0% to prime plus 4.9% or 13.5% after six months.
Stanley Anderson, president of Anderson and Associates in Arvada, Colo., said that while Smith Barney will make the market more competitive, "whether or not they can hold on to those customers after the initial six months is another question."