PNC Bank Corp. is closer to its goal of acquiring all existing credit card accounts tied to the American Automobile Association.

Banc One Corp. quietly sold two-thirds of its $1.2 billion auto club portfolio to PNC in December. The $700 million sale is the second-largest such portfolio acquired by PNC since it won the exclusive right in January 1996 to market financial services on behalf of the AAA, whose clubs have 38 million members.

In November, Mellon Bank Corp. sold its $771 million Visa and MasterCard card portfolio to the Pittsburgh bank.

Banc One, however, was more reluctant to give up its auto club business. Having bid for the AAA contract last year, Banc One originally said it would maintain its relationship with the 58 member automobile clubs for which it issued credit cards.

"The financial transaction looked better to us than spending money on marketing to the base," said Banc One spokesman John Russell.

"Banc One did not want to give the portfolio up," said credit card consultant Donald M. Berman, "but the alternative was to hold it, which was a losing strategy."

The banks would not disclose the terms of the sale.

Sources familiar with Banc One's portfolio said it garnered less than the 15.16% premium Mellon collected earlier, in part, because of industrywide concerns about declining credit quality.

As part of the transaction, PNC also bought Banc One's Lafayette, Ohio, card processing facility, which was dedicated to the AAA accounts.

Banc One still owns one-third of its AAA portfolio because the large clubs representing those accounts have not agreed to work with PNC.

The national auto club association has been encouraging its member clubs to join AAA Financial Services Corp., which is jointly owned by the regional clubs and the national association and was formed to work with PNC.

The AAA declined to say why the four clubs affiliated with Banc One have not joined AAA Financial Services Corp.

In total only six AAA member clubs have not joined, four that are affiliated with Banc One and two that have credit card contracts with smaller banks.

With $12 billion in outstandings, Banc One ranks 10th in the nation. Upon completion of its planned acquisition of First USA Inc., the Columbus- based bank would move up to third.

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