Providian Financial Corp., one of the first credit card companies to plunge into e-commerce, is dumping the brand it created specifically for the Internet to play up the GetSmart loan shopping service it purchased in 1999.
Though Providian is still heavily promoting its Aria line of credit cards in national television commercials, that brand which is meant to attract dedicated Internet shoppers will die this spring, and cardholders will be given replacement cards bearing the GetSmart brand.
Moreover, the San Francisco card specialist which has recently announced deals to give customers wireless account access and to let them conduct online person-to-person payments will introduce a second smart card, a cobranded Providian/GetSmart credit card. Providian was one of the first three U.S. banking companies to introduce a chip card, the Providian Visa with Smart Technology, and is poised to become the only bank card issuer with two such products on the market.
At first the chip on the GetSmart card will simply control the cardholders digital wallet, but eventually it will store loyalty programs, secure online identification, and offer other features, Providian executives said.
Providian bought GetSmart, a Web site that lets people describe the type of loan they want (including auto, business, mortgage, and credit card) and receive bids from multiple lenders, in 1999 for $33 million. It was an unorthodox move, since Providian lets other lenders vie for the business of GetSmart customers.
Now Providian will make the GetSmart.com site the centerpiece of its Internet offerings. It has already added such features as an online bill payment service called BillSnap.
A powerful evolution of e-commerce is leading us to GetSmart as a primary business driver of the future, said James Rowe, president of global e-commerce at Providian. One of the things we found is we are driving significant traffic to the GetSmart and Aria site.
But Providian says the fact that GetSmart has drawn far more traffic than www.aria.com led to the decision to choose one over the other. Mr. Rowe said Providian had been satisfied with the performance of its Aria card, which gathered 350,000 accounts in its first year, but the GetSmart site, which drew more than 25 million visitors last year, dwarfed Arias reach.
Each individual business by itself was very successful, but we see an opportunity to go in the direction of a single brand with a greater value proposition, Mr. Rowe said. A single product, single channel has some growth limitations.
GetSmart will continue to offer products from other card issuers and lenders, and it will earn fees for referrals. The site will offer electronic bill presentment and payment services, along with access to Providian account information. As Providian develops its wireless account services, those too will migrate to the GetSmart site.
A private-label person-to-person payment service, which is being developed under a license agreement with PayPal Inc., will help Providian deepen its relationships with customers, Mr. Rowe said.
It is the ability to consolidate all your transacting into one location, he said. If you are looking at several financial relationships in several locations, it is a pain to have stuff in different places. It becomes very cumbersome.
Analysts who follow Providian said the innovative use of GetSmart will help the company distinguish itself from its competitors.
The biggest difference between Providian and others is the purchase of GetSmart.com as a stand-alone, said Moshe A. Orenbuch, a research analyst at Credit Suisse First Boston. As a stand-alone, it is a difficult way to make money, but as part of an integrated platform you dont have to live hand-to-mouth.
John McDonald, an analyst at UBS Warburg, expressed surprise at the planned demise of Aria. They seemed to have gotten some traction with the Aria brand, he said.