A survey commissioned by MasterCard International found that its Cirrus automated teller machine network enjoys better consumer recognition than Visa International's Plus system.
In the 1995 survey of more than 1,400 U.S. consumers by Research Partners, 66% mentioned Cirrus when asked to name an ATM network, compared with 49% who mentioned Plus.
Of the ATM and credit cardholders among the respondents, 77% were aware of Cirrus, compared with 56% who said they were aware of Plus, according to the survey by Research Partners.
Dan Ciporin, vice president in MasterCard's global deposit access unit, said the results should encourage bankers to choose the Cirrus brand. Cirrus has topped the survey for five straight years.
Ronald Reed, executive vice president of Visa International, disputed the assertions about relative awareness. "It always seems that whoever pays for the survey comes out on top," Mr. Reed said.
He did agree that the national networks have become increasingly important to consumers. "We at Plus subscribe to that message."
The survey found that 70% of consumers now have ATM cards and know their personal identification numbers - a record, up from 65% in 1994 and 56% in 1993.
Liam Carmody, president of Carmody & Bloom, a consulting firm in Ridgewood, N.J., said his research indicates Cirrus has "marginally greater name awareness," but Plus probably has more cards on the market.
He questioned the 70% card penetration figure. His company has estimated that 75% of American households have a bank account, and of that number, only 47% have an active on-line debit card.
Consumer research by the American Banker and the Gallup Organization has placed ATM card ownership at 50% to 60% of U.S. households.
Joseph E. Wallace, a consultant based in Chicago, said the two national networks are "in the same league." He said the public views them as functionally identical.
In the U.S., almost all ATMs connect to both networks, rendering their differences "essentially meaningless," he said. In Europe and other parts of the world, dual connections are less prevalent and brand distinctions clearer.
Mr. Ciporin cited Korea as an emerging debit-card market where Cirrus claims 80% of the cards. He said the country will have 12 million Cirrus- branded debit cards by yearend. "You will see rapid expansion of the Cirrus mark due to events like that on a global basis," he said.