QuikTrip Corp's revamped affinity card program demonstrates renewed interest from for-profit companies in Tempo Payments Inc.'s decoupled debit system.

The Tulsa gas station and convenience store chain has been offering cards that use the Tempo system since 2007, and on Tuesday announced an updated program.

The QuikTrip card also marks the first time that Tempo has partnered with Discover Financial Services; they can be used anywhere that accepts Discover, but the transactions settle through the automated clearing house system. Other Tempo cards, and QuikTrip's earlier card, use the MasterCard Inc. network.

Consumers can link any bank account to the cards, and the affinity partners receive transaction fees when they are used. Tempo has long promoted its programs to retailers, which offer consumers rewards as incentives to use the cards, but in the past year it has shifted its focus to nonprofit groups, which see the cards as a way to raise funds.

Mike Grossman, Tempo's chief executive, said the cards are now attracting more attention from companies like QuikTrip, and their customers. "We're finding a lot of convenience stores are interested, but I think more broadly, this kind of debit program resonates well with consumers who make a lot of purchases in one location."

QuikTrip's program offers cardholders a 5-cent-per-gallon discount on gas purchases at its stores for the first 90 days after card activation, after which the discount drops to 2 cents per gallon. First Bank and Trust, a Brookings, S.D., unit of Fishback Financial Corp., issues the cards.

Cardholders who activate the card before Nov. 30 will qualify for a 10-cent-per-gallon fuel discount for the first 90 days.

In addition, cardholders receive 2% cash-back rewards for purchases at other participating merchants.

The lure of cash-back rewards should help the program thrive, said Bill McCracken, the CEO of Synergistics Research Corp. "The consumer is coming back to basics, and the basics are cash," he said.

A recent Synergistics survey found that consumers prefer cash-back rewards to points or miles.

Consumers are in "savings mode," which makes cash-back a more attractive incentive, McCracken said. "What Tempo has done here very accurately reflects the mood of the consumer," he said.

Tempo expects to announce partnerships with other for-profit organizations soon, including convenience-store chains, Grossman said.

He said he believes this type of program appeals to convenience stores trying to reduce transaction costs and build better brand loyalty.

"They are trying to do multiple things. They are trying to reduce costs associated with transaction pricing. Second, they are trying to build a stronger relationship with their customers," he said.

Merchants typically pay about 0.5% to 0.75% of the sale to accept Tempo cards, though the actual rates vary by program.

By comparison, merchants typically pay 2% to 3% of the sale for a credit card transaction, though those rates also vary significantly depending on the size and type of merchant.

Tempo's nonprofit clients include the Arthritis Foundation, the Breast Cancer Fund, Doctors Without Borders, Greenpeace, In Defense of Animals, the Manilow Fund for Health and Hope, the Surfrider Foundation and World Emergency Relief.

The groups receive 0.5% of each signature debit sale and 0.1% of every PIN debit purchase amount made with the affinity cards.

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