Before Providian Financial Corp. gained independence last year from its insurance company parent, "many people did not know who we were and what we were doing, or how many breakthroughs we had brought to this business," said Shailesh J. Mehta, chairman, president, and chief executive officer.

Now that Providian is on its own as a publicly held company - the insurance arm was sold to Aegon of the Netherlands - Mr. Mehta freely boasts about his 50 consecutive quarters of earnings growth, continual flow of new products, and advanced risk management techniques.

"Providian is one of the few companies that can serve a market segment from as low as a 1% loss rate to as high as a 12% loss rate," said Mr. Mehta, who has been with the San Francisco-based card and home equity lender since 1986. "Give us any segment and we have a product."

With a reputation for finding prospects overlooked by even the the most sophisticated data miners, Providian is constantly probing. One new target market for a Visa classic card is people with slightly impaired credit who qualify for an unsecured line. "We think there is a potential to have a million customers in that segment over time," Mr. Mehta said.

Providian is believed to have surpassed that number of unbanked, or unsecured-card, customers, who accounted for $1.3 billion of the company's $11.5 billion of managed loans as of June 30.

Total loans were up 24% in 12 months. Providian posted second-quarter returns of 1.92% on assets and 37.91% on equity - normal for this profit machine.

This year, Providian has purchased $2.2 billion of receivables from First Union Corp. Mr. Mehta said Providian would make acquisitions "where we can add value." He prefers to "improve profitability through growth and revenue generation rather than cost consolidation."

"It would not be very hard for us to become $25 billion if we were to make decisions that, by our standards, are uneconomical," Mr. Mehta said. "My biggest goal is to have the most profitable portfolio, and we are achieving that."

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.