Reader's Digest Association Inc. has added itself to the roster of nonbank companies that are trying to do business in personal finance.
The 79-year-old publishing company and direct marketer, best known for its mass-market magazine, announced deals this month with two insurance providers and a credit card issuer to market products to Reader's Digest's roughly 50 million customers.
The First USA division of Bank One Corp. said last Tuesday that it will offer a cobranded credit card to Reader's Digest readers. A week earlier the insurance companies American International Group Inc. and Torchmark Corp. announced similar arrangements.
Reader's Digest of Pleasantville, N.Y., this year began pursuing new growth strategies in a plan devised by Thomas O. Ryder, who became chairman and chief executive officer in 1998. Mr. Ryder had spent the previous 14 years at American Express Co., most recently as president of American Express International, where he was responsible for merchant acceptance and strategic alliances.
"Reader's Digest customers represent a key target market for insurance and other financial services," Mr. Ryder said in a statement. "Our research and experience show that our customers, with whom we enjoy a unique level of trust, are very receptive to purchasing such products from Reader's Digest."
Anita Boomstein, a partner in the New York law firm Hughes, Hubbard & Reed who specializes in the credit card industry, echoed Mr. Ryder. Reader's Digest, she said, "stands for old-fashioned values and trust and reliability, which are precisely the kinds of values consumers look for in financial services companies."
In addition to its flagship magazine, Reader's Digest publishes a variety of books and such periodicals as Walking, American Health for Women, and Moneywise. Reader's Digest is published in 48 editions and 19 languages and reaches 100 million readers a month, the company says.
Reader's Digest said it will advertise all the partners' products in its magazines.
Other nonbank companies with plans to market financial services include Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Nordstrom Inc., and H&R Block.
AAA, formerly the American Automobile Association, set out some years ago to offer financial products, beginning with a credit card and eventually forming a partnership with PNC Bank Corp. of Pittsburgh. A cobranded card that PNC issued was transferred to MBNA Corp., which bought PNC's card holdings last year, but other products are still offered through the partnership.
Mr. Ryder said Reader's Digest's broader strategy is to leverage its brand in five consumer areas: finances, home, health, family, and "faith." Several partnerships in some of those categories have already been created.
"We are in a growth stage now," said Reader's Digest spokesman Stephen J. Morello. "Brand trust and awareness are two of the strongest equities the company has."
Mr. Ryder's roots are in the publishing industry. Before he moved over to the cards side of American Express in 1992 he was publisher at American Express Publishing, responsible for Travel & Leisure and Food & Wine magazines. He is a former vice president of CBS Magazines.
Reader's Digest offered few details of its arrangements with the three financial services companies. In his statement, Mr. Ryder said First USA's "market penetration, broad reach, and direct marketing skills are excellent complements to our own marketing skills and data base, particularly given our strength among consumers 50-plus with disposable income."
Rosemary Cauchon, executive vice president of cobrand marketing for First USA, said her company is "pleased to have the opportunity to target offers to the Reader's Digest U.S. data base."
American International Group, based in New York, said its member companies will "develop a range of life, accident, and health and general insurance products and services to be offered to Reader's Digest customers through direct mail and telemarketing in 26 countries outside the United States."
Birmingham, Ala.-based Torchmark, which sells life and health insurance, will aim its offerings at customers in the United States and Canada.