Providian Financial Corp. is developing a service that will let its credit card customers check their account balances and other information through wireless devices, such as Internet-connected mobile phones or personal digital assistants.

A shopper ready to buy something but worried about the amount of credit available on a particular card could use the service to check, potentially avoiding embarrassment at the point of sale, Providian said. Customers who register for the service will be able to type in a Web address on their mobile device and view payment and credit information.

Providian said this eventually could reduce balance inquiries to its customer service line.

“We took questions coming through the call center and tried to address them through this venue,” said Lorijon T. Bacchi, vice president of business development for emerging technology at the San Francisco company. “Many customers will call to see credit balance to see if a payment has been registered yet.”

At first Providian will offer the service in pilot format to its Aria cardholders only. The Aria card is available primarily through the Internet, and Providian reasoned that people who have one are more receptive to new technology. Jody Bhagat, senior vice president of electronic commerce at Providian, said statement inserts will go out in April notifying Aria’s customers of the free service. As of the second quarter of 2000, there were 350,000 Aria customers.

Providian said it will watch its early adopters closely to help fine-tune the wireless offering. “We see wireless playing an important role,” Mr. Bhagat said. “We want to see what is important to them.”

Providian’s wireless technology vendor is Aether Systems Inc. of Owings Mills, Md.

Though wireless Internet connections have long been described as a boon to stock traders and e-mail junkies, the notion of using mobile devices to check a credit card’s status is relatively new. The Internet credit card issuer Juniper Financial Corp. of Wilmington, Del., promises its credit-card holders wireless access to all types of account-status services, from balance inquiries to automatic alerts when the card’s balance is nearing its limit.

Cititrade and the Citibank credit card division of Citigroup Inc. have signed a contract with the Toronto software outfit 724 Solutions Inc. to provide wireless account access capability to Citibank’s credit card customers. Several banks, including Wachovia Corp., another 724 Solutions client, have begun offering wireless account access to deposit account or investment customers.

Wireless software vendors hope credit card account access will become a popular use for Internet-connected telephones and that it will get customers ready for making payments through these phones. “In the short term, we are helping a customer do what he does now,” such as check balances and due dates, said Sujan Menezes, vice president for banking at 724 Solutions. “In the longer term we will go to a different model where customers pay” using mobile devices. “People are using cards more often than bank accounts.”

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.