Targeting what they believe is an overlooked market segment, JCB International Credit Card Co. of Japan and Northwest Airlines have introduced a credit card for Asians living in the United States.
The cobranded WorldPerks JCB credit card, which debuted in August, is being marketed specifically to people who speak Japanese, Chinese, or Korean-whether or not they are U.S. citizens.
R. Dwane Krumme, Los Angeles-based general manager and executive vice president of JCB, said his company hopes to tap into a market of millions neglected by card issuers, with the aid of customer service representatives who speak English and one other language.
"There are telecommunication companies and marketing firms that do things in other languages, but I am not aware of any credit card company in the U.S. that makes a special effort to provide services in the language of its cardholders," Mr. Krumme said.
JCB sees a potentially lucrative market among Asian language speakers who travel to the Pacific frequently for business or to visit relatives. Using a consumer data base from Northwest, JCB began a telemarketing and direct mail campaign this summer.
All card application materials have been printed in one of the three Asian languages, with the exception of disclosure statements required by law to be in English.
The program "makes great sense," said David Gagie, president of Auriemma Consulting Group Inc., Westbury, N.Y. "Why shouldn't people have a product that communicates with them in a way in which they are most comfortable?"
Some foreign banks in the United States target products to customers from the home country, Mr. Gagie said, but those programs are usually linked to a relatively small population of expatriates.
"Trans-Pacific travel is growing, and Northwest has probably hitched themselves to a very worthwhile niche marketplace," said Mr. Gagie. "More card companies should look into programs like this where there is a viable market."
The WorldPerks card offers an interest rate of prime plus 8.5 percentage points, which currently totals 17%. Cardholders will get one air mile point for each dollar charged. As a promotional bonus through March 31, they will earn 1.5 air mile point for each dollar charged. The $20 annual fee will be waived for the first year, but JCB may decide to drop it altogether, depending on card activity.
"Since Northwest has such a big flight pattern to Asia, I would assume that this is a very good marketing niche," said Anita Boomstein, a credit card lawyer at Hughes, Hubbard & Reed of New York.