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MONEY SAVVY WEEKEND

American Express Slow to Deal Blue Card

Personal finance: Company underestimated response to its credit card for Internet users.

October 08, 1999|From Bloomberg News

NEW YORK — American Express Co.'s new Blue credit card, aimed at busy Internet users, is taking as many as 40 days to get to applicants because the company failed to anticipate the response.

The company began sending the first cards to customers on Wednesday, four weeks after introducing it, and some early applicants won't get their cards for another two weeks. The average wait for a new card is about 14 days, according to industry consultants.

The Blue card is one of several credit cards being offered with 0% interest as an introductory rate, but it's the only one so far with an embedded computer chip, to make shopping over the Net more secure by encoding stored financial data.

The card is manufactured in Europe and takes two to three weeks to produce, compared with seven to 10 days for a typical magnetic-strip card, a spokeswoman for American Express said.

"They shouldn't have been surprised by the response," said David Gagie, marketing director at Auriemma Consulting Group Inc., a Westbury, N.Y.-based firm that offers advice to card companies on marketing and product development. "Technology products always have very early interest and this card also had had heavy early media attention, unusual for a credit card."

The company's competitors, including NextCard Inc., Providian Financial Corp. and Bank One Corp.'s First USA unit, let consumers know within seconds of submitting an Internet application whether they've been approved for a card. Applicants for the Blue card and other American Express cards have to wait weeks to find out--through the mail.

American Express introduced the card Sept. 8 with much fanfare and has promoted it with a rock concert in Central Park and ads on everything from the Internet to buses to popcorn bags at movie theaters.

The big push comes amid intensifying competition among credit card issuers. Other companies trying to entice consumers with a 0% teaser rate and no annual fee include Providian, with its Aria Visa, and Citigroup Inc.'s Travelers Bank USA, with its Quicken Platinum or Business MasterCard.

Other terms vary, however, and consumers should read the fine print on card offers to determine whether a card fits their needs.

The Blue and Quicken cards each apply the 0% rate only to new purchases for six months. They charge 9.99% and 5.90% for balance transfers, respectively.

The Blue card also charges 20.99% interest on cash advances.

The Aria card charges 0% for both new purchases and balance transfers, but after three months the rate goes up to 7.99%, 12.99% or 19.99%, depending on the borrower's credit history.

Company Web sites providing information about the 0% credit cards include: Blue from American Express, http://www.americanexpress.com/blue; Aria from Providian, http://www.aria.com; Quicken card from Travelers Bank, http://www.quickencard.com.

Web sites that give credit card tips include: Bank Rate Monitor, http://www.bankrate.com; CardWeb, http://www.cardweb.com; Consumer Action, http://www.consumer-action.org; Credit Card Advisor, http://www.creditcardmenu.com/; GetSmart, http://www.getsmart.com; Lending Tree, http://www.lendingtree.com; Money Whiz, http://www.thewhiz.com.

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