Superstars are few in the rapidly consolidating credit card game, and Fleet Financial Group has gotten one.
In 12 years with Household International, Joseph W. Saunders built the finance company's card business into the kind of national powerhouse that Fleet aspired to be. He was a natural to jump into the free-agent market late last year.
Since January, Mr. Saunders has presided over Boston-based Fleet's acquisition of more than $11 billion of card accounts. Largely through adding Advanta Corp.'s portfolio, Fleet has risen from 25th to ninth in the bank card industry, with $14 billion of receivables.
Advanta has been a preoccupation. "What we have done is gone through both portfolios and reorganized and remapped everything," Mr. Saunders said. After October, "we will not issue or reissue cards with the Advanta name."
In July, Fleet agreed to buy $600 million of card assets from Crestar Financial Corp. It was a further sign that Fleet wants to be big and national, with diversification as its basic business tenet, Mr. Saunders said.
"We have to be efficient and opportunistic as it relates to portfolio purchases and create a culture of partnerships," he said.
"Joe's track record is truly one to be admired, and much of what he did at Household was through acquisitions and innovation," said Stanley W. Anderson, president of Anderson & Associates, Arvada, Colo.
In contrast to Household, Fleet has a strong branch banking network and brand that can bolster the card business. But a cobranding coup like the one with General Motors Corp. that put Household on the national card map may not be in the cards for Fleet or anyone else.
"I don't see us losing any ground, but I am not going to tell you that I am going to internally create growth that is going to double our size in the next 24 months," Mr. Saunders said.
"On the other hand, as the industry consolidates, we will probably have some unique opportunities. When the smoke clears, I would like to think we will be in the top half of the top 10."