Metris Online Deal

Prodigy Communications has signed a co-branded credit card and fee-based services contract with Metris Companies. The five-year deal, which is valued at $58 million, if specific thresholds are achieved, will offer to Prodigy’s two million customers a ‘Prodigy MasterCard’ and a wide range of Metris fee-based products including a credit monitoring service, a travel club, a card registration service and a purchase protection program. The ‘Prodigy MasterCard’ will be offered as both a secured and unsecured product. The credit card program will also offer online access to account information and a digital wallet.


TMEX’s Hot Start

TMEX USA Inc. Wednesday provided information indicating that its new debit card service, announced six weeks ago, has had an impressive beginning.

Early results suggest that the revenue that will be produced from this debit card product will exceed previous estimates.

Final tests of the debit card platform were successfully completed early in December. Concurrently, TMEX entered into an agreement with a major customer to reserve telephone service for slightly more than one million debit cards. Last week, the first week of actual consumer service through the TMEX debit switch, over 50,000 debit cards were activated and in use. TMEX operations reports that telephone traffic flowed smoothly across the switch throughout its initial week of service.

TMEX will derive significant immediate revenue from its new debit card service. Activation of the full suite of over one million debit cards and pins called for in the agreement between TMEX and its largest debit service customer in early December will yield approximately $10 million in revenue for TMEX. Initial revenue for December is in excess of $300,000.

TMEX, a telecommunications company with headquarters in Newport Beach, supplies international wholesale telephone, video, data, private networks, and Internet services via high technology laser communication links.


Card Vol Up 24%

VISA International reports this morning that global transaction volume for the period between Nov. 25 and Dec. 20 hit $58.5 billion, a 24% increase over the same period last year. Last Saturday, Dec. 18, set a new world record as VISA processed 3,782 transactions per second compared to a typical daily average of 2,530 transactions per second. VISA’s U.S.-based processing centers also handled a peak of 3,255 transactions per second last Saturday, representing a 22% increase over the same Saturday in 1998. Dec. 24 is traditionally the busiest shopping day of the holiday season and VISA said it anticipates processing between 3,800 and 4,200 transaction per second tomorrow. Last year the VISANet system sustained, for the first time, more than 3,000 transactions per second for nearly fourteen continuous hours of the holiday season. About 25% of VISA’s annual transaction volume occurs between Nov 20 and Jan 3.


TSYS Holiday Volume

The Holiday Season ushers in the busiest time of the year for point-of-sale authorizations and transactions at Total System Services, Inc. During this season, which began the weekend following Thanksgiving, TSYS’ monetary transaction volume increased by 61 percent over the same period last year. To date, TSYS’ busiest hour peaked at 326 authorizations per second , an increase of 32 percent over the corresponding day in 1998.

“It appears that TSYS will have another phenomenal holiday season, and we are excited about the increase in authorization and transaction volumes,” said TSYS President Philip W. Tomlinson. “TSYS’ increases in authorization and transaction volume can be attributed to the significant account growth in 1999 as well as increased card usage.”

“TSYS is committed to providing our customers with the highest levels of technology. Our superior processing systems were developed to handle large transaction volumes, allowing TSYS customers to gain the competitive edge needed in today’s domineering market,” Tomlinson continued.

TSYS is one of the world’s leading information technology processors of data and transactions for domestic and international issuers of credit, debit, commercial and private-label cards. TSYS’ sophisticated systems offer online accounting, data processing, electronic commerce services, portfolio management, account acquisition, credit evaluation, risk management and customer service. Through its family of companies, TSYS services the entire lifecycle of card accounts, and processes millions and millions of accounts, making it possible for consumers to use their cards any time, anywhere. Headquartered in Columbus, Ga., TSYS ([][1]) is an 80.8 percent owned subsidiary of Synovus Financial Corp. (NYSE: SNV) ([][2]) named the Best Company to Work for in America by FORTUNE magazine.



CheckFree Acquisition

CheckFree announced Tuesday it will acquire BlueGill Technologies in a stock deal valued at $250 million. BlueGill’s management team, base of about 100 employees, and locations in Ann Arbor, MI and Toronto will remain with the company. The unit’s financial results will be reported within CheckFree’s software business segment. Founded in 1996, BlueGill pioneered Internet bill and statement presentment, evolving into an international software development company. BlueGill software provides a platform for electronic billing and payment by transforming legacy systems into interactive Web applications for managing customer relationships. BlueGill’s client list includes CitiBank, Chase, U.S. Bank, ABN AMRO, EDS, Cable & Wireless, Guardian Insurance, Capital One, Detroit Edison,, IBM and Xerox. CheckFree said yesterday that it chose BlueGill because it offers an infrastructure that has proven scalability, and a technology vision that supports interoperability.


Top Sacrifice

The trouble within Bank One’s First USA credit card unit percolated to the top yesterday with the resignation (abrupt retirement) of Bank One’s chairman and CEO, John McCoy. The news came yesterday around noon as Bank One’s stock was sinking to a new low of $29.75 per share. The news of yet another “head on the platter” produced an afternoon rally sending Bank One’s stock to nearly $34 per share. Since mid-May, Bank One’s stock has declined from $63 per share to $30 per share. The stock’s slide was accelerated in August when Bank One disclosed that First USA was struggling with growth, attrition and profitability issues and that the credit card problems would cause Bank One to miss analysts’ earnings estimates. The stock continued to slide after a second warning last month. Since late summer there has been widespread speculation that Bank One would sell off the card unit, the second largest portfolio in the country with $70 billion in receivables. However, McCoy, who made the acquisition of First USA in 1997, indicated last month that First USA would not be sold. With McCoy out of the way, the question is no longer will First USA be sold or Bank One taken over, but when. Once considered an unstoppable credit card powerhouse First USA’s troubles this year cost Richard Vague his job as First USA’s chairman and CEO in mid-October, and Randy Christofferson his position as president of First USA Bank in mid-May. There has also been an exodus of other top talent at First USA. Bank One announced Tuesday that John Hall retired chairman and CEO of Ashland, Inc. will serve as non-executive chairman of the board of Bank One. Verne Istock president of Bank One, was elected acting CEO. William Boardman senior executive vice president, was elected vice chairman and a director and will continue his responsibilities as head of the credit card business and be based in Wilmington. (See CF 5/19/99 & 10/20/99)


Flexible Smart Card Reader

Cubic Transportation Systems announced this morning it has designed the first smart card reader capable of processing three types of contactless smart cards. Using the latest in digital signal processing technology, the ‘Tri-Reader’ processes the ISO ‘14443 Type A’, ISO ‘14443 Type B’, and the Cubic ‘GO CARD’ contactless smart cards. The universal feature gives transit authorities the flexibility to systematically build the infrastructure necessary to support a smart card-based fare collection system without having to be locked into a particular card type. That selection can be made as user requirements are subsequently refined based on transaction speed and memory capabilities of the different card types. The ‘Tri-Reader’ also supports multiple ‘Security Application Modules’ which will allow transit fare payment equipment to support other applications beyond transit, such as electronic purse. Cubic is the world’s leading specialist in automated fare collection systems for mass transit. Cubic has built fare collection systems in London, New York, Chicago, Washington, Sydney, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Singapore.



Electronic Clearing House released an online check processing product yesterday. ‘CHEXpedite’ enables online shoppers to access funds from their checking accounts to pay for Internet purchases. The system encrypts the data using SSL encryption and transmits it to ECHO’s secure server for processing through Magic Software Development Inc. ECHO’s Albuquerque-based check processing subsidiary. ‘CHEXpedite’ also offers an automatic second presentment of items returned by the consumer’s bank due to non-sufficient or uncollected funds. When a second presentment is returned, an integrated collection process is employed to verify funds at the checkwriter’s bank before attempting a third and final presentment. ‘CHEXpedite’ was developed under an exclusive five-year processing and software development and license agreement with TX-based National Bank Drafting Systems. NBDS will promote the Internet check processing product through its nationwide network of over 1,500 licensees.


ACE Card Suit

Two stockholder lawsuits were announced yesterday against Dallas-based, sub-prime, credit card issuer UICI. Two weeks ago UICI, issuer of the ‘ACE VISA’ card, acknowledged that it expects to post a $79 million loss for the fourth quarter. The loss was attributed to the combination of rapid account growth and a simultaneous sharp rise in chargeoffs for UICI’s subsidiary, United CrediServ. The news sent UICI’s stock from approximately $25 per share to less than $10 per share over the past two weeks. The complaints charge that UICI falsely reported its results for the first, second and third quarters of 1999 through the use of unjustifiable assumptions to calculate its reserves for credit card losses, thereby materially overstating its net income and EPS in at least the first three quarters of 1999. The suits allege that the scheme unraveled this month as UICI was forced to reveal that it would record a charge in the fourth quarter. The ‘ACE VISA’ program offers a $400 minimum credit line to credit impaired consumers who agree to initially charge a $300 personal finance educational program and other fees to the credit card. (See CF 12/10/99)


100 Million Chips

Smart card manufacturer Gemplus confirmed this morning that its year-old Singapore plant has produced its 100 millionth smart card chip, reaching the target six months ahead of schedule. Gemplus Microelectronic Asia, the company’s manufacturing facility, is Singapore’s first and only smart card plant. GMA opened in Nov. 1998 with a staff of 30 and one smart chip manufacturing line. Today, the plant has two lines and full assembly and more than 200 employees. Over the past year, more than one million smart cards have been manufactured and approximately nine million have been personalized at GMA. Gemplus also has a chip manufacturing plant in La Ciotat, France which produces over half a billion smart chips a year.


OPC Signs Two States

Official Payments Corporation announced Tuesday that it has signed separate agreements with the Connecticut Department of Revenue Services and the State of Illinois Treasurer’s office. Official Payments Corp. will provide those states’ taxpayers with the ability to pay 1999 income tax balance-due payments by credit card. Official Payments Corp. has existing contracts with the United States Internal Revenue Service and the District of Columbia, as well as the states of California and New Jersey, for similar programs to collect balance-due payments.

Taxpayers in Official Payments Corp.’s partner states will be able to make their balance-due payments by dialing 1-888-2PAY-TAX.(SM) Information on the new payment options will be included in tax instructions, which will be mailed by the state governments to taxpayers in January, or taxpayers can find it by visiting [][1] on the Internet.

Official Payments Corp. charges consumers on average a 2.5% convenience fee for processing these credit card transactions. For example, a taxpayer who owed the government $1,400 and charged their taxes, would find a total of $1,435 on their credit card statement — $1,400 for the tax bill and $35 for the convenience fee. American Express, Discover(R)Card and MasterCard(R) are the credit cards accepted by the program. Taxpayers using credit cards with bonus rewards programs can, depending on their card’s program, earn points, cash-back or airline frequent flyer miles for paying their taxes.

“Taxpayers have three motivations for using our service: convenience, cash management and rewards. We offer a proven, secure, reliable and convenient way to pay taxes, with added benefits from credit card reward programs,” said Thomas R. Evans, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Official Payments Corporation.

The Connecticut Department of Revenue estimates that 475,000 taxpayers will owe $448 million in balance due tax payments for 1999. “We are constantly taking steps to provide enhanced services to our citizens to streamline voluntary compliance. This new tax payment option gives them an innovative alternative to traditional payment channels,” said Gene Gavin, Connecticut Tax Commissioner. “It’s a win-win deal for both Connecticut and our taxpayers.”

In Illinois, the Department of Revenue estimates that 2.3 million taxpayers will pay approximately $529 million in balance due payments for tax year 1999. “We are taking real steps to make the process of paying taxes efficient and convenient for our citizens,” said Judy Baar Topinka, State Treasurer of Illinois. “Our 1-888-2PAY-TAX.(SM) number provided by Official Payments Corp. delivers on our promise of making it easier to pay your taxes.” The Official Payments Corp. contract with Illinois is in conjunction with National City Bank (NYSE: NCC) for processing credit card payments.

About Official Payments Corp.

Official Payments Corporation (formerly U.S. Audiotex Corporation) is the leading provider of electronic payment options to government entities. The company enables consumers to pay government fees and taxes via telephone or the Internet, using their credit cards. The company has partnered with the United States Internal Revenue Service, several state governments and 450+ municipal and county entities, in which it collects property taxes, real estate taxes, parking fines and other government fees by credit card over the telephone and the Internet. Official Payments Corp. is committed to making payments to the government go fast, smart and safe.