In the latest signal of its commitment to the credit card business, Marine Midland Bank recently hired Catherine Marsh from BankAmerica Corp. for the new post of senior vice president, credit card group.

Ms. Marsh, 42, had been at BankAmerica since 1985, most recently overseeing the relocation of a major part of its credit card operation to Phoenix.

The task required a broad knowledge of credit card systems and management, which the bank expects Ms. Marsh to bring to her new job overseeing Marine Midland's $1.2 billion portfolio of card loans, the 28th largest among U.S. banks. (A company spokesman is quick to point out that Marine has no plans to move its operations from Buffalo.)

Ms. Marsh reports to senior executive vice president Peter B. Davidson, who joined the bank a month before she did after spending 11 years at CoreStates Financial Corp.

Eight administrative vice presidents, heading functions from marketing to collections, report to her.

At BankAmerica, Ms. Marsh was known as a strong, operations-oriented executive, said K. Shelly Porges, a marketing consultant who worked with Ms. Marsh at BankAmerica. She was "a terrific project manager," Ms. Porges said.

Ms. Marsh jokes that she switched jobs in late August -- when the Buffalo weather "looked good" to someone who had been in Phoenix.

Professionally, she said, she was attracted by Marine Midland's vision of the credit card as an integral part of a broader relationship with the customer.

"I believe that's the key to the future in credit cards," she said.

Fees May Be Waived

One expression of that philosophy is a program in which the card's annual fee is waived for customers who have another relationship with the bank, such as a checking account or a loan.

Another attraction for Ms. Marsh was Marine. Midland's parent, HSBC Group of London, which also owns Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corp.

"Opportunities are endless within the HSBC Group," she said. "A group-wide card system is being built. Once we get the technology in place, we could offer all sorts of products at a worldwide level."

Synergistic Potential

Completion of the Marine Midland system is still about three years away, Ms. Marsh said. But she said offerings could range from international emergency cash services to improved statements of international card activity.

Ms. Marsh said there is potential for synergy between the domestic retail card operation and Hongkong Bank's "Hexagon" electronic cash management program. Hexagon includes a procurement program for corporate customers, which can be accessed by credit card.

A more immediate challenge is to stem the attrition of accounts to national competitors, which has plagued Marine Midland and other issuers its size.

Card loans dipped to $822 million' from $877 million in 1991, and grew negligibly to $823 million last year. But growth has picked up again, with balances surging past $1.1 billion at midyear.

Ms. Marsh said attrition in the New York State portfolio appears to be under control, but it remains a problem for the national operation. "One of the biggest challenges we have is educating the customer on the value of the card," she said.

"We've got one of the lowest variable rates out there, nationally," she said, at 16.95% on standard cards and 14.95% on gold cards.

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.