MCI Takes Aim at AT&T In Effort to Woo Bankers

With many banks still fuming over the success of AT&T's Universal card, MCI Communications is seeking to fuel the fire.

The Washington-based telecommunications company recently began sending brochures to bank chief executives that blast American Telephone & Telegraph Co.'s plans to become a credit card powerhouse. "When AT&T says they want your business, they're not kidding," the letter proclaims. By contrast, MCI has "no intention of entering the banking or finance industry."

The mailing is part of a larger effort by MCI to position itself as a business partner of the nation's banks, said Paul Erickson, director of business marketing at MCI Shortly after AT&T unleased its combination credit and calling card in March 1990, MCI began working with its largest bank customers, including Citicorp and Chase Manhattan Corp., to launch a competitive product. It began to offer as service that allows MasterCard and Visa issuers to turn their existing cards into long-distance calling cards.

"Last year, our focus was to work closely with the largest banks," many of which already had a relationship with MCI, Mr. Erickson said. "Now, we're taking more of a mass-market merchandising approach to reach other banks that maybe have had heard of us but never had considered us" as a telecommunications provider. Most recipients of the latest direct mailing work for local and regional banks.

The brochure shows a larger-than-life AT&T Universal card looming over a banker's head. Next to that, in bold letters, is the following quote from Paul Kahn, the AT&T executive who runs the Universal card program: "AT&T intends for the Universal card to replace existing Visa and MasterCard credit cards issued by other banks."

MCI is running inserts with a similar theme in Fortune magazine. The company also has trained its sales force to use the "AT&T as a competitor" tactic when calling on banking customers.

MCI's latest campaign refers to the company's bank card calling service, but only as it fits into the larger theme of MCI as bank partner. The direct mail and related pieces are really designed to sell the company's general business offerings - 800 services, data and private network solutions, and related telecommunications services. The effort comes from MCI's general sales department rather than its specialized bank card marketing group.

PHOTO : COMMON ENEMY: MCI depicted the AT&T threat in a mailing.

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