has hooked up with the Church of God in Christ, a denomination of the Pentecostal church whose members are primarily African-Americans. In what is believed to be the first national church affinity card program, the partners are offering secured and unsecured credit cards to the church's 3.5 million members in 10,000 congregations. Key Federal has targeted the African-American community through the Black Expo U.S.A. card and the American Black Colleges card. Robert M. Bouza, president of the bank's card operation in Havre de Grace, Md., said he expects this program to be different from other affinity cards the bank offers. "The loyalty edge is better with this kind of program than with any other I have seen," he said. "It would take an awful lot for someone not to use their card," if it helps the church raise funds. "Every time they use their (cards), they will be making a donation that supports our local churches and their community programs," said Solomon Williams, chairman of the general council of pastors and elders of the church. Key Federal pays the church for each account opened, in addition to giving it a cut of the transaction volume. Mr. Bouza would not disclose the specific financial details. The church, headquartered in Memphis, said it collects $1.3 billion a year in tithes and offerings. The alliance also marks a shift in marketing strategies for Key Federal. Known primarily for its heavy focus on the secured credit card business, Key is not emphasizing the secured version of the card over its unsecured counterpart. "We want to reach the largest possible market," explained Mr. Bouza. More important, however, Mr. Bouza said he expects to reduce the bank's advertising costs by launching similar card programs. As a small thrift, Key Federal has felt the bite of larger banks entering the secured card business over the past two years. Key Federal has watched its market share decline and the cost of promoting its secured card products rise. But with the Church of God promoting and marketing its card, Key Federal said it will save money. "As these types of programs get larger," said Mr. Bouza, "we will advertise less." Mr. Bouza estimates the card will garner 50,000 to 100,000 accounts - primarily unsecured cards - in the first year. The veteran banker has high expectations for the church card, which he believes will eventually be in the wallets of all the church's parishioners. "I don't expect to see this happen overnight," he said. "We are in this for the long haul." The secured version of the card charges fees totaling $60 and carries an 18.9% interest rate with a minimum deposit requirement of $250. Its unsecured counterpart has a $25 annual fee and charges 16.9% in finance charges.
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