Amid the clamor of consolidation in banking last year, nonbank credit card specialists quietly and methodically continued to shuffle the ranks of the top issuers.

In fact, said David Robertson, president of The Nilson Report, an Oxnard, Calif., newsletter, five of the top 10 are nonbanks, as are one out of every three issuers in the top 30.

First USA Inc., Dallas, vaulted over First Chicago NBD Corp. to fourth place, with $17.5 billion in outstandings. First Chicago remained in fifth place, with $17.2 billion in loans, including NBD Corp.'s card portfolio from last year's merger.

Capital One Financial Corp., Falls Church, Va., jumped from 13th place to 10th, with $10.5 billion in outstanding loans.

Meanwhile, MBNA Corp. remained the nation's third-largest issuer, with $25.3 billion in outstandings. Even though the Newark, Del.-based issuer added $7.7 billion in card loans in 1995, it still could not pass Dean Witter, Discover & Co., which held onto second place, with $27.8 billion in receivables.

"I expected the Discover card to fall to three and be usurped by MBNA," Mr. Robertson said, "but the introduction of some new products in the second half of 1995 helped them."

The Riverwoods, Ill.-issuer of the Discover card introduced three versions of its upscale Private Issue cards in July and launched the Bravo card in September.

American Express Co., meanwhile, got knocked out of the top 10, dropping into the 12th slot.

"They are still not yet geared to open up full-throttle with their revolving credit products," Mr. Nilson said of the New York-based charge card giant. "The lines of credit are not as large as bank cards, and they're not pumping out of a lot of gold card offers."

Nilson's ranking does not reflect the introduction of American Express' cobranded Delta card in September, which it began issuing in January.

Citibank did well among commercial banks, Mr. Robertson said of the nation's top issuer. Last year, Citibank had $44.8 billion in receivables, up $5.8 billion from 1994.

Bank of New York, however, fell three spots to 15. Mr. Robertson attributed the Delaware-based issuer's decline to the lack of new products. It is too soon to determine if the Toys R Us cobranded card, introduced late last year, will boosts its standing, he added.

A proposed merger between Chase Manhattan Corp. and Chemical Banking Corp. would bump the combined entity up to fourth place. Last year, Chase held its 8th-place ranking and Chemical remained 9th. Together, they will have more than $23 billion in loans.

Wells Fargo, which has a deal to buy First Interstate, will become a top 15 player, if it goes through, he said. In 1995, the San Francisco-based issuer moved up two spots to 18th, "showing a reinvigorated commitment to the card business," Mr. Robertson said.

"The big players got better at doing what they're doing," he said. "By this time next year you're going to have six portfolios larger than $20 billion."

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