Fair Isaac Corp., whose FICO score sales have slumped as banks have decreased their lending, is hoping that giving more consumers free access to their scores will encourage them to buy other products.
The Minneapolis company said last week that it is looking for more financial institutions to offer its Scores on Statements program, which lets consumers view their score once a month for free through their bank's Web site. Participating banks, which typically buy the scores regularly for their own purposes, pass them on to consumers without paying Fair Isaac any additional fees.
"The credit crisis has made consumers aware that they need to be looking at and managing their credit scores," so offering access helps banks build loyalty, Shon Dellinger, the vice president of Fair Isaac's consumer business. His company will profit by "upselling" other products and services to consumers who get the free scores, and it will share the fees for those offerings with the banks.
Last week Pennsylvania State Employees Credit Union said it started offering the program to its 200,000 consumers, expanding the total participants to 1.5 million. HSBC Holdings PLC offers the program to holders of its Sears Solutions MasterCard.
It is unclear whether JPMorgan Chase & Co. intends to continue offering Washington Mutual customers the service. On Friday a JPMorgan Chase spokeswoman would say only that it is "still evaluating Wamu products and services, including Wamu's FICO Score program, and have not yet decided which ... [ones] we will be offering."
But a message on a JPMorgan Chase Web that afternoon told Wamu consumers their access to the free scores would be discontinued. "As of March 1 ... your free FICO score won't be displayed. Please consider accessing your credit score details for a fee" from JPMorgan Chase, the message said.
When asked about that, a JPMorgan Chase spokesman insisted, "no decision has been made at this time about this feature as well as other products and features. ... The score won't be displayed after March 1, but it may be displayed at a later date."
Fair Isaac said that it is in "conversations with several other top 10 financial institutions," which it would not identify, and that it expects to announce more deals within six months.
Mr. Dellinger acknowledged that most banks have other pressing concerns for their time — and money. "We try to be very sensitive to the very difficult situation" banks face, he said. "Any technology effort that they try to put forth right now is significant."
Chris Larsen, the founder and chief executive of Prosper Marketplace Inc., called the program's expansion a smart move in an increasingly competitive market.
Bureaus like Experian PLC and TransUnion LLC are now selling their proprietary scores directly to consumers, while outfits like Credit Karma Inc. (whose investors include Mr. Larsen) offer free scores.
"They made a great move when they started making [the FICO score] transparent and charged for it. This is the next step," he said. "Others want to push them out by being really transparent — if they can own that, maybe they can keep at bay some of these other models."