Citibank's cobranding announcement with Sony Corp. last week underscored how interested the New York bank is in marketing alliances-of a certain kind.
Saying that "alliances are a critical piece of our strategy," A. Sami Siddiqui, Citibank's general manager of credit cards in North America, said the company wants to work with others in the big leagues of corporate branding.
"We will be looking for new, big partners," Mr. Siddiqui said.
Sony and the Citicorp unit launched a cobranded MasterCard or Visa product that offers discounts on Sony merchandise and services.
Citibank has three major card partnerships-American Airlines, AT&T Corp., and Sony. The last two came into the fold since Mr. Siddiqui arrived in June 1997 from Providian Financial Corp. The biggest of the bank card issuers is looking to other companies' customers to satisfy its appetite for new accounts.
In January, Citibank acquired $14.5 billion of receivables from AT&T in what is now Citibank Universal Card Services, Jacksonville, Fla. That made up almost a fourth of Citibank's total portfolio, and few acquisition opportunities of that size will ever come along.
The potential of the Sony partnership is "immense," Mr. Siddiqui said.
Cardholders can redeem Sony points for items ranging from movie tickets to music CDs and televisions. Points multiply faster when the cards are used at participating retailers that sell Sony merchandise. So far, Sony has signed nine franchise operations with 1,000 retail outlets.
A print advertising campaign is touting the card as the "official currency of playtime."
"Entertainment is a very popular category," for cobranded credit cards, said Chris Theoharides, president of Advantage Consulting Group, Massapequa, N.Y.
And Citibank's interest in comarketing has increased.
"In the last year we have seen (Citi's) interest level rise a lot," said Mr. Theoharides. Citibank "might look at an opportunity in the past, but now it is aggressively bidding for them."
Though the partners would not disclose their goals for the Sony card, they clearly expect a young audience.
Mr. Siddiqui said Citibank will be marketing the card on college campuses. There are no plans to sell it overseas.
The Sony card, a platinum product with no annual fee, has an initial interest rate of 5.9% for six months. Thereafter it rises to the prime rate plus 5.9%.
A consultant, Brannon Cashion, speculated that Sony may steer its customers to Citibank for financing of some big-ticket items.
Mr. Cashion a vice president with the Charlotte, N.C., corporate identity firm Addison Whitney, said the partners probably will "scratch each others' backs" in many ways.
Mr. Siddiqui said Sony brings to Citibank "innovation, quality, and entertainment," while Citibank contributes "decades of leadership in the card business."
In the card, Sony sees "new opportunities to better service our customers, develop new revenue streams, and link our electronics and entertainment operations," said John Briesch, president of Sony Electronics' business systems group and head of its card business division.