Last year MasterCard more than doubled the number of merchants accepting Maestro, its on-line debit card.

On the heels of this growth, Maestro U.S.A., the MasterCard subsidiary, is beginning a national sweepstakes for merchants to encourage them to display decals bearing the Maestro logo so that customers know they can use the cards to shop.

"People can't use the payment option if they don't know it's accepted," said Libby Sullivan, a MasterCard spokeswoman.

Maestro U.S.A. said it has been expanding acceptance of its card as part of an overall commitment to accelerate the development of point of sale debit.

In 1994, 33,832 U.S. merchants accepted Maestro, compared with 16,032 a year earlier.

The New York-based company found that merchants in its integrated marketing campaigns last year that prominently displayed signage posted higher debit volume than those who did not.

During a six-month test at a specialty retail outlet center in Vacaville, Calif., Maestro said customers used their automated teller machine cards to shop at stores bearing the Explore regional mark and/or Maestro mark eight times more often than in stores having little or no signage.

"Our experience underscores the importance of customer education from the merchant perspective regarding the payment methods merchants accept," said Carl Stefanelli, vice president, Maestro U.S.A. acceptance.

The sweepstakes, called Window of Opportunity, was created to raise Maestro's visibility and help merchant acquirers and merchants benefit from increased usage of POS debit, he said.

Merchants and acquirers are eligible to win prizes in three drawings to be held at six-month intervals during the sweepstakes, which runs from April 1 of this year to Sept. 30, 1996. The grand prize is a six-day, five- night trip for two to Bermuda; 50 first place prizes of $100 will also be awarded each drawing.

Merchants who accept Maestro transactions are eligible for both prizes, and the acquirers who sign up the merchants are eligible for the Bermuda trip.

Separately, MasterCard International announced the formation of a strategic alliance with Service Centers Corp., the only credit union electronic funds transfer network in Michigan, to promote and market its debit products.

MasterMoney, MasterCard's off-line debit card in the United States, plus Maestro, will be marketed to Michigan credit unions, including the network's 145 participating members.

The partnership is the latest in a series of alliances MasterCard has announced in support of its goal to promote POS debit.

The network, known as SC24, offers Maestro to nearly 100 participating credit unions. It will continue to market that in addition to MasterMoney.

MasterCard will provide training, marketing, and educational support to network members. It has designed "train-the-trainer" instructional sessions for network sales and account managers on MasterMoney. The sessions will be held in western Michigan. Also, MasterCard will offer network credit unions a customizable television commercial highlighting MasterMoney.

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