Visa International has launched a three-prong marketing program for members anchored around its sponsorship of the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.

The San Francisco-based association is in the midst of promoting the initiative, which offers prizes ranging from merchandise to an Olympic Games vacation package.

Members can purchase part or all of the program, which consists of employee credit card sales training, employee incentives, and customer promotion. The offer runs through March 1, 1996.

"At this point, there is a lot of mixing and matching," said Richard Bialek, Visa's new senior vice president for consumer products. "The key here is the needs of each bank."

Visa's sales training program includes a credit card self-study guide and sales tips on credit card benefits. All participants are eligible for merchandise, such as leather jackets, bags, key chains, and pens with the Visa and Olympics logos.

The incentive program consists of a four- to six-week employee course aimed at increasing Visa card applications. For each application garnered, employees receive entries in four Olympics-related drawings, with the top prize a trip for two to the games. A drawing for 10 winners will be held in April 1996.

In the promotion program, members are given point of sale posters, flags, and brochures advertising that Visa card applicants at the bank are eligible to win a trip to the Olympics. Five winners will be chosen, also in April of next year.

Visa says it developed the program after an internal survey indicated only 27% penetration levels of branch customers carrying the same institutions' credit cards. The survey also indicated that most customers have only one account relationship with banks.

"Selling a credit card to a customer immediately strengthens that relationship beyond average levels," said David Brooks, Visa's executive vice president of market development.

The survey suggests that banks would like to raise their cross-sell ratio by approximately 50%. Visa claims that retention levels are higher for customers with more than one account.

Utilizing sporting events to promote credit cards is quite popular in the industry. MasterCard International announced earlier this month that it had renewed sponsorship of the World Cup through 1998, re-signing soccer legend Pele as its spokesman.

"The 1990s are the decade of relationship building and relationship maintaining," said Mr. Bialek of Visa. "That's what we're doing here."

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