In an era when new players are constantly emerging to knock more traditional competitors out of the box, an institution's ability to shift gears and redirect strategy is paramount.

So when American Express's charge card strategy began to falter several years ago, the company changed course, introducing a credit card offering in hopes of generating the kind of revenue growth experienced by card issuers like MBNA. But to the dismay of Amex officials, Optima's performance was far less than optimal. "They did not have the proper credit management tools and credit policy people in place," says an industry analyst, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

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