Wachovia Bank Card Services has completed a 15-month conversion of its in-house credit card processing system. The conversion, which was finished July 28, upgraded the card unit's mainframe computing system, giving workers easier ways to view and manage customer transactions. The Atlanta-based unit of Wachovia Corp. manages a $5.4 billion credit card portfolio, placing it in the top 20 of the bank card industry. Last year, the unit decided to keep its processing in-house and awarded a multimillion-dollar contract to FBS Software, also of Atlanta. FBS is a unit of Equifax Inc. Beverly B. Wells, president of Wachovia Bank Card Services, said her group has added more than 130 professionals to its staff in the last two years-many in marketing and risk management-and the computer upgrade was needed to put all 1,120 people on the same system. Speaking metaphorically about the operation, Ms. Wells said: "We had a very good, solid, six-story building, and we built it up to a 20-story building-then we had to put in the girders." Ms. Wells said the bulk of the "massive conversion" was achieved over the weekend of July 26-27. The only casualties were the cellular telephone and driver's side window of Ms. Wells' new car, which was broken into while she was delivering lasagna to staffers who came to help with the project. She was thrilled with the new system, however. "It's all table-driven, it gives batch and on-line transaction capabilities, and it replaced our outdated authorization system," Ms. Wells said. Larry Towe, president of Equifax Card Solutions, said he has had 10 workers assigned to Wachovia since the project began in March 1996. The new software will give Wachovia workers better data mining tools and richer information about customer transactions. It also enables the bank to introduce new card products "in days or weeks without having to do any programming at all," Mr. Towe said. He said the system's collections and authorizations functions were also more sophisticated. "The authorization system is much more powerful, allowing you to recognize the customer and the different types of transactions, and have multiple authorizations strategies at the same time," Mr. Towe said. Wachovia and FBS Software have an 11-year relationship. Originally known as First Bankcard Systems, the software company was formed by credit card employees of First National Bank of Atlanta, now Wachovia Bank of Georgia. Wachovia, like many card issuers, has seen portfolio growth flatten this year. Ms. Wells said the rise of consumer bankruptcies was a key factor. Wachovia made its name in the card business by offering a variety of low-cost products. "We still have the mantra of low-rate, but what it really means in today's market is that we are the card of consumer value," Ms. Wells said. Given the glut of card offerings and the downturn in the consumer credit market, Ms. Wells said targeting markets for portfolio growth has been a challenge. "I think banks are just going to have to get creative," she said.

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