PNC Bank Corp. has not gotten all the mileage it expected from its hard-won endorsement early this year by the American Automobile Associa- tion.
The contract allowed PNC to market financial services - from creditcards to home loans to mutual funds - to the 38 million members of regional AAA clubs.
PNC wanted to pave the way by acquiring and consolidating the credit card portfolios that other banks had been accumulating since marketing through auto clubs began in the 1970s. But that road has been bumpy: Seven banks are holding out on PNC.
Fourteen AAA clubs - all in contracts with other banks - have not agreed to transfer their allegiance to PNC.
Banc One Corp., which controls the largest AAA portfolio that PNC wants, does not appear eager to give up its 1.2 million accounts with $1.2 billion of outstanding debt.
In contrast, Mellon Bank Corp., PNC's local rival in Pittsburgh, decided to get out of the AAA business. Just this week PNC purchased from Mellon more than 1.3 million accounts with balances of $771 million; the buyer paid a premium on the receivables of 15.16%.
Mellon and Banc One had the majority of the 3.8 million AAA MasterCard and Visa cards, and both vied against PNC for the association's broader and potentially lucrative financial services endorsement. Banc One has offered AAA credit cards since 1980.
A spokesman for Mellon said it was "logical" to sell the card portfolio given PNC's exclusive rights from the AAA.
But when PNC got the endorsement in January, Banc One vowed to continue its relationships with 58 auto clubs.
James J. Gudinas, AAA's managing director of financial services, said Banc One and the other banks are currently in "active discussions" with PNC.
Banc One spokesman John Russell declined to comment on Banc One's plans. He said it would "make sense" for the smaller clubs to give up their relationships with other banks and work with PNC.
But some of the larger AAA clubs would likely have negotiating leverage with their banks when their contracts expire, Mr. Russell said. He added that Banc One works with clubs of all sizes, and some of the contracts don't expire for several years.
"It's not surprising that you would find some banks that want to keep (AAA portfolios) rather than sell them," said investment banker Robert K. Hammer of Newbury Park, Calif. "Good accounts are hard to come by today."
In the meantime, the automobile association is trying to discourage its members from renewing their bank contracts.
Mr. Gudinas said any club that did not go with PNC would be unable to continue using the AAA logo on its credit cards unless it's part of the club's name.
Moreover, the national association is advising member clubs with outstanding bank contracts to join AAA Financial Services Corp., which is jointly owned by the regional clubs and AAA Inc. and was formed to work with PNC exclusively.
So far, 77 of the 91 clubs have agreed to do so, including many of the 58 served by Banc One. PNC is marketing financial services including cards, deposit products, and loans to 16 clubs, but cannot sell through the others until they are free of their bank contracts.
Despite the impression that PNC has run into snags with some auto clubs and banks, PNC says it is pleased with its progress. Spokesman Jonathan Williams said the bank is ahead of its own projections in signing up the 77 clubs, none of which had relationships with PNC before January.
The idea behind AAA Financial Services, said Mr. Gudinas, is to showsupport for PNC and encourage other banks to give up their AAA business.
"If I were one of those banks I wouldn't want to do a lot of investment with AAA clubs, knowing that they have either left or committed to do so," said Mr. Gudinas.