The president of Visa USA Inc. chided the credit card industry today for overreacting to last spring's credit crunch. As a consequence, the industry should expect reduced growth rates for the next year or two, D.W. Hock told the American Bankers Association's national bank card convention.
Recalling that many banks lowered credit limits, restricted new applications and moved faster than usual to close slow or delinquent accounts, Hock said, "We have been tested and found a bit wanting in recognition that customer interest is our interest, a bit too willing to cut and run, and a bit guilty of overreaction. It will take a more reliable course of conduct for some time, and substantial marketing expense, to erase the memory."
Later he told reporters that bank cards should be as reliable as currency. "If our industry is unwilling to ride throgh tough times as well as good, it doesn't deserve the public's patronage," he said. No public relations campaign can change that, he added.
Agreeing with this corporate mea culpa was Arthur White, executive president of Yankelovich, Skelly & White. He presented results of a poll showing that more than 50 percent of the American public believs the problems associated with credit cards such as delinquencies or overextensions outweigh the perceived benefits. He warned his audience of the danger of some "real reaction." The poll was taken after the credit crunch began but reflects a longer-term dilemma for the American people, he added. On the one hand, they are being told by industry to indulge themselves with credit and on the other told by government to restrain themselves.
In marked contrast to Hock's sobering comments were those of Russell E. Hogg, president of Interbank Card Association, the parent organization of MasterCard. Hogg observed that Interbank had "enhanced [its] image" through its television "marketing approach" of telling people to use their credit cards cautiously.
Hogg, 52, is the aggressive new president of Interbank. He replaced John Reynolds six months ago in what he termed a turnaround situation. Interbank, once the leader in the bank card field, had been marketing time while Visa pulled ahead.
MasterCard's number of active domestic accounts dropped 1.3 percent to 24.7 million between the first quarter of 1979 and the corresponding period this year. Visa's grew 7 percent to 25.8 million. MasterCard sales decreased 7 percent to $6.1 billion, while Visa's increased 16.9 percent to $7 billion. During the second quarter of 1980, Visa's gross dollar volume slipped 1.9 percent, although its active accounts rose 5 percent. MasterCard's second-quarter results are not yet available.
Despite the recent credit crunch, the mood at this year's convention was decidedly optimistic. Hogg said MasterCard expects to launch its new traveler's check during the first quarter of next year. This week its new debit card was introduced, with the first ones expected out before Christmas. Its nationwide access to MasterCard automated-teller machines is planned for late 1981.
Visa has launched a pilot project to automate its fraud lists now circulated on paper. Through 500 Dial terminals now placed in banks, merchants can validate credit cards. Hogg observed that fraud now costs the industry $25 million a week and, at the present rate, losses will amount to $1 billion annually by 1981 or 1982. He also said that MasterCard authoriziations could be made on Visa's system and invited Interbank to let Visa do the same on its system, thus saving the industry $120 million a month in duplication.
New pricing of existing products, new services and new technology for the 1980s were the main themes of the convention. Like other industries, banking is eager to cash of the revolutions of the decade: the home computer. Conventioneers received demonstrations similar to the ones put on this week for the House Banking Committee by Banc One of Columbus, Ohio. This service uses a customer's television set telephone and a special adaptor unit to transform them into a new kind of automated banking machine.