Hoping to offset big banks' credit card advantages, seven midwestern banking associations have reached a pact with TRW Information Services to get group rates on consumer credit reports.

Normally, community banks cannot keep up with the investments in information and technology that big card issuers use to find new prospects in the nearly saturated card market.

The TRW program "is not the full step up to what the big banks have, but it does help [smaller] banks become more efficient and have higher confidence in their [credit] decisions," said Michael Van Buskirk, executive vice president of the Ohio Bankers Association.

$1.30 a Report Versus $3

Mr. Van Buskirk is a former TRW executive. His association is being joined in the TRW program by those of Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Kentucky, Wisconsin, and Minnesota.

Under their three-year contract, a TRW credit report that might have cost a member bank $3 can be purchased for about $1.30. "It's comparable to the price a Citicorp would pay," Mr. Van Buskirk said.

In addition to the lower price on the reports, which are used to evaluate many kinds of consumer loans, Mr. Van Buskirk said the members will gain access to TRW's national data base. That will help them to evaluate the potential profitability of credit card offers, he said.

Big banks have data in their nationwide card portfolios to build reliable predictive models of customer creditworthiness.

Even though they will have access to TRW's national data, the smaller banks would still lack some of the big banks' flexibility, Mr. Van Buskirk said.

Seminars Under Way

He said they will not be able to challenge industry giants like Citicorp, nor would they want to. But the program will improve smaller players' effectiveness in offering a credit card to round out their relationships and build loyalty with local customers, the Ohio executive said.

Ohio and Illinois, with 254 and 872 banks respectively, have already kicked off their programs with seminars led by TRW officials. The other associations are expected to follow shortly.

In a bidding process, TRW's price was deemed superior to that offered by its rival, Equifax Inc., which offers similar group benefits through an affiliate to members of the Independent Bankers Association of America.

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