Ronald T. Urquhart, who built People's Bank into a national force in credit card marketing, has resurfaced at another Connecticut bank, where he hopes to repeat the feat.
Mr. Urquhart, 54, a senior vice president who took an early retirement package from People's of Bridgeport last July, joined Webster Financial Corp. of Waterbury without fanfare the following month.
"I'd be thrilled if I made a People's out of Webster," Mr. Urquhart said in a recent interview. He said he would use some of the same methods he employed in developing the People's card operation since 1985.
It has grown into the 25th-largest in the country, with about $3 billion of receivables.
In search of growth that became increasingly difficult domestically, Mr. Urquhart moved to Northampton, England, in 1995, to establish a credit card foothold there.
While he was there, Mark K. Vitelli took responsibility for People's U.S. card business and was named senior vice president.
Mr. Urquhart-whose family remained in New England during his tenure in Britain-returned to the United States last year, but quickly left the thrift. Mr. Urquhart said at the time that he was considering becoming a credit card consultant.
In a recent interview, he said he was not ready to retire, but felt his continued presence would be "disruptive" to the new card management team.
In England, Mr. Urquhart was succeeded by Carlos R. Mello, People's controller of corporate finance.
People's strategy in the U.K. has mirrored its U.S. approach: The bank competes on the basis of price, offering a card with a standard interest rate of 14.4%, with no tiered pricing. The bank also relies heavily on direct mail and advertising.
Although Mr. Urquhart declined to elaborate on the strategy he has envisioned for Webster Bank, he said his philosophy remains the same.
For the past 18 months, Webster has been working with Program Management Corp., an Atlanta-based consulting firm that manages banks' credit card businesses on an outsourcing basis.
Program Management is run by Jerry D. Craft, a former First Data Corp. and Wachovia Bank Card Services executive, and Webster has been one of its major clients.
Mr. Urquhart would not say whether $6.8 billion-asset Webster is preparing to terminate its contract with Mr. Craft's firm.
"Our relationship with Program Management is under review," Mr. Urquhart said.
His job, he said, is to "evaluate all the bank's options," including taking the card operation in-house.
Program Management also manages the card business of First American Corp. of Nashville.
The consulting firm was best known for its work with PNC Bank. After PNC won a coveted contract with AAA-formerly the American Automobile Association-to offer a broad range of financial services to members, PNC ended its relationship with Program Management. At the time, Mr. Craft said Program Management had been so successful that it had worked itself out of a job.
Mr. Craft said it is premature to describe the relationship with Webster the same way.
Mr. Urquhart said Webster's card business is small-he declined to provide numbers-but said the company plans to become a strong issuer in its region.
Mr. Urquhart said Webster's debit card business is actually larger than the credit card portfolio. Webster had previously worked with People's in an agent bank relationship, in which People's was the principal issuer of Webster's credit cards.
"Asset quality will be the driver of our growth," he said. "You don't need to take unnecessary risks."
Webster offers credit cards only to residents of Connecticut, but Mr. Urquhart plans to solicit people elsewhere in New England.
In 1997, Webster agreed to buy Eagle Financial, parent of Eagle Bank. After the transaction is completed, Webster would be the second-largest bank based in Connecticut, with $8.9 billion of assets, Mr. Urquhart said. People's is the largest, at $9.7 billion.