Ronald N. Zebeck sees Metris Companies, a relative newcomer in the cutthroat credit card business, going through an adolescent rite of passage.

"We were the kid that used to bother the big guys," the Metris chief executive officer said. "Now we're the ugly teenager that knows how to drive."

The two-year-old company in St. Louis Park, Minn., a spinoff of Fingerhut Companies, is second-tier in terms of receivables - $3.9 billion as of June 30. But it is growing in leaps and bounds - 83% year-to-year. After the $615 million offering last October for 83% of its stock, Metris is on its way through "little tiny wins, little tiny steps" to creating a "big business," said Mr. Zebeck.

"Everyone is out there chasing platinum and gold and titanium cards," Mr. Zebeck said. "We still make a lot of money issuing blue, standard cards" to the decidedly downscale.

Serving lower-income people, many with blemished credit records, Metris rang up a 10.6% loss ratio in the latest quarter, well above the Fitch rating agency's June average of 6.63%. The company conservatively makes provisions to cover losses of about 12%.

Meanwhile, fee income has skyrocketed with offers for card registration, warranty, and price protection packages, which Metris markets using the vast data bases of its former parent Fingerhut.

It also sells those fee services through other issuers such as PNC Bank Corp., BankAmerica Corp., Household International, and even to catalogue retailers that compete with Fingerhut.

"People look at Metris as a new player," Mr. Zebeck said. "We're just proving ourselves a little more rapidly than people would have expected."

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