don't know. In a recent consumer survey, 46% of Discover cardholders erroneously identified Sears, Roebuck and Co. as the issuer. A whopping 70% were not aware that Dean Witter, Discover & Co. is the issuer, and the same percentage said they were unlikely to ever own a credit card issued by a broker. These are among the highlights of the survey of 4,000 consumers conducted by Brittain Associates Inc., Atlanta, in early September. "These beliefs and opinions illustrate how important it is that Dean Witter firmly establish the Novus network in the minds of consumers as the issuer of its line of card products," said Bruce Brittain, president of the credit card research and consulting firm. Consumer confusion about the Discover card issuer is not too surprising, considering that Sears owned Dean Witter when the card was first introduced. "They're moving directly from Sears to Novus" in terms of building brand identity "rather than stopping over with a Dean Witter card brand," said Anne Morgan Moore, president of Synergistics Research Corp., an Atlanta- based card consulting firm that has Discover as a client. Indeed, Dean Witter has steadfastly placed Discover as well as its other card products - Private Issue, and Bravo - within the Novus system, a network of merchants that accept all cards issued by Dean Witter. The Novus brand is essentially Dean Witter's response to MasterCard and Visa brand names. It allows Dean Witter to differentiate its cards from those two bank brands. The company claims Novus is now the third largest network of merchant terminals in the United States. "We are indeed actively promoting the Novus brand name," said a Dean Witter spokeswoman. "Recognition of Novus at the merchant location is integral to our marketing strategy." The Brittain Associates study also found that Discover cardholders are carrying larger outstanding balances and charging more on the card, effectively reversing a trend seen last fall. Compared with last year's data, Discover's monthly revenues associated with balances and usage are estimated to be up as much as 70%. These findings are consistent with Discover's latest annual financial disclosures of a 23% increase in interest income and a 22% increase in merchant and card member fees in the last year. Based on its research, Brittain Associates estimates that about 19 million households, or 20% of the total, say they own one or more Discover cards. At Sept. 30, Discover reported that it has 34.6 million accounts in its portfolio, including Discover, Private Issue, and Bravo. A recent Gallup Organization survey, conducted for American Banker, found that 28.6% of U.S. households said that they owned a Discover card. The Gallup survey found that 7.6% of U.S. households indicated that the Discover card is the one they use most frequently.
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