Card is steadily growing, while GE Capital's Exxon card is lagging behind comparable programs. Atlanta-based Brittain Associates Inc., in a survey of more than 4,000 U.S. households from Aug. 30 to Sept. 12, found that 500,000 Optima True Grace Card accounts were opened since last April, when the consulting firm conducted a similar survey. Optima True Grace now has 1.6 million accounts, a number American Express says is in "the right ballpark." The product has exceeded American Express' original expectations of 500,000 to one million accounts, said a spokeswoman. "It will be difficult to sustain that level of growth," said Bruce Brittain, president of Brittain Associates. Mr. Brittain also noted that since the card is just over a year old, the portfolio is still too young to experience attrition. Mr. Brittain believes that the company's success is due in part to its campaign to educate consumers about grace periods. The Brittain survey found that Optima True Grace cardholders tend to be younger and less affluent than the traditional American Express customer. The consulting firm selected Optima True Grace, because of "bankers' fear" of American Express, said Mr. Brittain. Meanwhile, GE Capital Consumer Card Co.'s Exxon MasterCard program is growing more slowly. The Brittain survey found that in its first year, the product has generated 250,000 accounts. By contrast the Shell-Chemical Bank card program secured four times as many accounts in its first year. Brittain Associates estimates the Shell portfolio has 2.1 million accounts, a 15% increase since April. GE Capital would not verify the number of Exxon accounts, but a spokesman said, "This product is right where we want it to be at this point." Citing press reports, Brittain Associates said that the Exxon card was marketed only to inactive Exxon charge card owners, while the Chemical- Shell card was marketed to all active Shell card customers. Also, the Shell card was more aggressively promoted in a national advertising campaign. The Exxon card offers a 3% rebate on all Exxon purchases and a 1% rebate on all other purchases. Mr. Brittain said the numbers in the survey are generally smaller than card issuers' because the survey counts only people who say they own the particular card. For example, people who have cut up the surveyed credit card, or perhaps do not remember owning it, might say that they do not have the card, but such people would still be counted as cardholders by the issuer.

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