Advanta Corp. has named Alex W. "Pete" Hart chief executive officer.

Mr. Hart, the former CEO of MasterCard International, replaces Dennis Alter, who had been Advanta's top officer for 24 years.

Mr. Alter, 52, will remain chairman of the Horsham, Pa.-based company's board of directors. Mr. Alter, Mr. Hart, and Richard Greenawalt, Advanta's president and chief operating officer, continue to make up the office of the chairman.

The unanimous election, of Mr. Hart, 55, last Thursday marked the first time in Advanta's 44-year history that the CEO has come from outside the Alter family. Dennis Alter took over the title from his father, Jack, in 1972.

"It is a very special company," Mr. Hart said. "It is a particular honor to be the first person not named Alter to run the company."

Mr. Hart joined Advanta in March 1994 as executive vice chairman, a position created for him. Since then, he has been focusing on technology, new businesses, joint ventures, and international markets.

Mr. Hart spearheaded the first international foray, announced in June: a joint credit-card-issuing venture with Royal Bank of Scotland.

In view of that announcement, Mr. Alter said, "it seemed like an opportune time to elect (Mr. Hart) as CEO so he can bring his experience, wisdom, and vision to bear on all parts of the organization, not just the developmental ones that were his focus originally."

With Mr. Hart as CEO, Advanta extends many of the same attributes the company got when they hired him, said Moshe A. Orenbuch, an analyst with Sanford C. Bernstein & Co.: "It gives him the full title and flexibility to represent the company; he has that breadth of exposure and expertise and contacts he used in the Royal Bank deal and certainly will use in other deals."

"We have some very exciting initiatives under way," Mr. Hart said, without revealing details. "We are tracking extremely well, and we feel very good about our prospects for the year."

Advanta has been busy on the domestic front as well. By the end of the year, it will open 19 consumer finance offices in the West and Southwest and will issue home equity lines of credit; it has created a new business services group; it has opened a New York office for Advanta Partners, its year-old limited partnership; it has created a new credit card bank, Advanta National Bank; and it has issued a credit card for small businesses.

"Advanta has achieved a real position of strength," Mr. Alter said, "and Pete's compelling vision for our company and for the entire consumer services industry will be an extraordinary guide as we approach and enter the next century."

Mr. Hart said that vision was not unique to his appointment.

"Perhaps I helped in changing the vision modestly," he said. "This was an immensely successful company when I came here. Together the three of us have expanded the vision in terms of products, markets, and geographically. When you're growing as rapidly as this company is, frankly, three people can be more effective than two."

Advanta began in 1951 under Jack Alter as Teachers Service Organization, a loan company serving Philadelphia school teachers. Solicitations advertised a 6% simple-interest loan with the tag line, "Why pay more?"

When Dennis Alter took over in 1972, the company had $10 million in assets. He changed the company's focus and its name, and in 1982 began to offer no-fee Visa and MasterCard cards. "We've had a terrific run for most of those years, particularly the last seven or eight," Mr. Alter said.

Advanta currently reports more than four million customers and $10.6 billion in managed assets. Three-quarters of its revenue comes from credit cards, and with $7.5 billion in managed card receivables, Advanta is the nation's 14th-largest issuer. It also offers mortgages, home equity loans, leases, insurance, and deposit products.

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