The Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia has created a department to research any and all cards that could potentially be used in financial transactions.

The idea for such a think tank had been kicking around the Philadelphia Fed for about a year and finally came to fruition last week, when Peter Burns was named to head the Payment Cards Center as vice president and director. He has more than 20 years’ experience in financial services and spent the last four years as managing director for the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton Financial Institutions Center.

The Payment Cards Center is part of the Philadelphia Fed and will charge no service fees. Mr. Burns said executives there envision it as a resource for academics, financial services professionals, consumer groups, and Federal Reserve Bank system staff.

The center’s broad plans are to study the role payment cards play in banking operations, e-commerce, payment systems, and monetary policy. But its mission will evolve, Mr. Burns said. “We’re going to try to create this as it goes along.”

First he will talk with people within the Federal Reserve Bank, the card industry, and the academic community. “We want to ensure the product we produce is of value and meets the needs of these constituencies,” Mr. Burns said.

Numerous private-sector research and consulting firms study the card industry, but there is a dearth of academic research in the area, Mr. Burns said. He said the material his department generates will be available to everyone, much of it online.

“This is intended for broad public consumption,” he said. “We don’t have a commercial ax to grind.”

The Payment Cards Center will host seminars and conferences, and may make arrangements for academic fellowships, Mr. Burns said.

At first the center will rely heavily on Federal Reserve Bank staff members. “The culture is quite collaborative, and the various areas are very supportive of this center,” Mr. Burns said. “They see it as a way to build on their own activities and as a complement to their own activities.”

At Wharton, Mr. Burns focused on issues affecting the structure and competitiveness of the financial services industry, and dabbled in consumer credit cards. In his new job he is working for his old boss: Anthony Santomero, who was named president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia in July, previously was the Wharton Financial Institutions Center’s director.

Mr. Burns’ immediate supervisor, Rick Lang, the Payment Cards Center’s executive vice president, said the Philadelphia Fed’s proximity to many of the country’s largest credit card companies had a lot to do with the research department’s conception. MBNA Corp., the First USA division of Bank One Corp., and some operations of Discover Financial Services are nearby in Delaware.

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