One of the credit card industry's top executives predicted accelerated consolidation over the next five years, with banks offering the American Express and Discover brands in addition to MasterCard and Visa.
Charles M. Cawley, chairman and chief executive officer of MBNA America Bank, said the number of banks with card receivables exceeding $1 billion would shrink to 10 from 30 today.
"The United States credit card business will continue to slow, and consolidation will accelerate," said Mr. Cawley, keynote speaker at the American Bankers Association's annual bank card conference.
Though he allowed that there would still be smaller, niche-market issuers of credit cards, he told the ABA gathering to expect smaller crowds.
Total attendance this year in Philadelphia is estimated at 1,200 to 1,400, down from 1,996 in Long Beach, Calif., last year. The banker portion was flat, at 430.
In another prognostication, Mr. Cawley, who oversees a $55 billion portfolio that is second in the industry only to Citicorp's, said the MasterCard and Visa associations would "go out of the marketing business" and return what they spend in that area for member banks to "create our own personalities and views of the world."
Carl F. Pascarella, president and CEO of Visa U.S.A., concurred that the bank card industry is at a "critical juncture" with "clouds on the horizon." He warned against complacency and focused on the need to face the challenge of taking "market share" away from cash and checks.
Reacting in an interview to Mr. Cawley's statement about MasterCard and Visa's roles, Mr. Pascarella said the issue is broader than "turning money back" to banks. "The question is, How do we become a strategic partner with the people who are moving the market?"
He said "partnering" is one of the Visa management's and membership's strong suits and must be adapted. "In the future, alliances will matter more than ever before," Mr. Pascarella said.
Like other Visa U.S.A. partisans, Mr. Pascarella has resisted a rule change that would let members cobrand or comarket with American Express or Discover. He said he is confident Visa's position on membership rules and related matters would hold up under current scrutiny by federal antitrust investigators.
He said if there were going to be a policy change, "it should be a business decision and not come from the Justice Department." Yet if it came to that, "It's hard for me to figure out what the value proposition is for banks to offer American Express."
Pointing out that foreign Visa banks are free to offer the competing brand, Mr. Pascarella said, "How many have there been? I don't think there has been a groundswell."
In his formal conference remarks, Mr. Pascarella criticized the Justice Department's inquiry on the American Express issue for occurring "when competition in payments is at an all-time high."
He also mentioned a suit by retailers led by Wal-Mart Stores Inc. over a rule requiring debit card acceptance along with credit cards. The litigation, which could go on for years, "attacks the 'honor all cards' principle that is the very cornerstone of Visa, and we must defend it as vigorously as possible," Mr. Pascarella said.
Mr. Cawley emphasized credit card basics, saying that for all the new competition and technologies, bells and whistles, "we are in the lending- people-money business" that requires "getting the right people to apply, choosing the right customers, and keeping them."
MBNA Corp.'s ties with 4,600 affinity groups have been instrumental its is capture of 11% market share in the United States, which he said "leaves plenty of room to grow."
MBNA issues cards on behalf of six major sports leagues-including Major League Baseball and the National Football League-plus 500 colleges and universities and myriad professional groups. Fifty-eight percent of the nation's doctors, 60% of dentists, 37% of lawyers, and 28% of teachers carry an MBNA card, Mr. Cawley said.
"Done sensibly, this business is reliably profitable," Mr. Cawley said. "Not one bank has failed because of credit card lending, and a lot of banks have been saved because of credit card portfolios."