FICI Signs De Bank Card

Columbia Capital Corp announced Thursday that it had signed an agreement with Delaware Bank Card to provide processing services for the Delaware-based card issuer.

CLCK’s wholly-owned subsidiary, First Independent Computers, Inc. (FICI) will be providing card embossing and encoding service, as well as statement processing.

Ken Klotz, President of Columbia stated, “There are many small to medium-sized institutions including independent sales organizations (ISO’s) that are looking to responsive organizations such as Columbia for their card production and statement processing services. FICI, with its state-of-the-art card production equipment, high speed laser printers, and mailing equipment is in an excellent position to take advantage of these lines of business.”

Hal Horton, CEO of Delaware Bank Card, stated, “We chose FICI for our outsourcing needs, because of their commitment, turnaround time and DataCard 9000 card production equipment.” President Klotz also stated, “Once Delaware Bank Card completes their testing and initial marketing activities, they will begin aggressively signing various financial institutions for the issuance of ATM and check cards.

Columbia Capital Corp. operates through its wholly-owned subsidiary, First Independent Computers, Inc., which is a multi-faceted information and transaction processing service organization. The services provided by the Company include credit and debit card processing, transaction processing for the health care industry, bank and financial services processing and document management and distribution services. The Company concentrates on a niche market, consisting of small to medium-sized financial institutions, and health care providers that have not achieved the economies of scale to operate their own in-house programs and systems.


Pizza Biz Goes Wireless

U.S. Wireless Data Inc. said Thursday that various pizza franchises and businesses have begun utilizing the TRANZ Enabler, U.S. Wireless Data’s proprietary wireless credit card processing solution, including such national franchises as Domino’s Pizza.

Most pizza and sub franchises have been forced to limit use of credit cards in the past. Adding the credit card payment option for a merchant that utilizes a traditional dial-up credit card terminal means the merchant must incur the cost of adding additional phone lines or be forced to share existing phone lines within the business environment.

For the pizza industry, this meant that incoming telephone food orders would compete with the credit card terminals’ outgoing telephone calls to authorize credit card transactions. This resulted in busy signals for customers trying to call in telephone orders and very slow credit card verifications for the business.

U.S. Wireless Data’s wireless credit card processing solutions are currently in use at more than 150 pizza businesses and franchises throughout the United States including Domino’s Pizza locations in north Florida and Tampa, Fla., Hungry Howies throughout the southeast United States (37 terminals in use), Papa John’s Pizza throughout the southeast United States (13 terminals deployed with 51 additional terminals to be installed), East of Chicago Pizza throughout Ohio (1 terminal deployed with 60 additional terminals to be installed) and Hometown Pizza in Kentucky (11 terminals installed).

By implementing U.S. Wireless Data’s TRANZ ENABLER wireless solution, pizza establishments can now provide its customers with the option of paying with a credit card. Moreover, proprietors are able to execute credit card payments without the added cost of additional telephone lines or tying up other existing phone lines. Throughput and productivity are enhanced as credit card transactions can be completed in less than 5 seconds vs. 15-20 seconds using traditional dial-up credit card terminals.

Andrew Chatani, Domino’s Pizza franchisee in Jacksonville Beach, Fla., commented, “I have been searching to find an efficient method to incorporate a credit card payment option in our business model. The nature of the pizza business requires that we keep speed of service and throughput as a top priority. The U.S. Wireless Data wireless transaction processing solution provides the answer. We can now offer a better service to our customers, maintain our operating efficiencies, and keep overhead expenses in line.” Commenting on the agreement, Clyde Casciato, vice president of sales of U.S. Wireless Data stated, “We view the pizza industry as an explosive and relatively untapped market for our wireless transaction processing solutions.

Annual pizza sales in the United States top $30 billion in more than 60,000 pizzerias and our transaction processing solutions are an excellent fit for the needs of the industry. The speed of clearing credit cards using our solutions means that pizza merchants can keep lines moving and optimize productivity.”

USWDA’s proprietary enabling technology, TRANZ Enabler, converts a merchant’s existing dial-up TRANZ VeriFone credit card terminal into a high-speed wireless terminal. It provides merchants with a faster and more cost efficient way to transact business.

The wireless transaction takes 3 to 5 seconds vs. 15 to 20 seconds with a dial-up service. Going wireless means the merchant no longer needs a dedicated or shared telephone line to carry transaction traffic, thereby eliminating delays, busy signals and the cost to install or pay for monthly telephone service. And because it’s wireless, the merchant can transact business anywhere the customer wishes to buy, instead of being confined to a service counter with a telephone line.

U.S. Wireless Data Inc. has developed, tested and is now delivering new proprietary products, programs and standards for the transaction processing and credit card industry which utilizes wireless cellular digital packet data (CDPD) networks. USWD delivers the fastest and most cost-effective transaction processing solution to retail merchants in the United States today. The company has joint marketing initiatives in place with GTE Wireless and Bell Atlantic Mobile.


Out To Sea

The pioneer of real time, satellite-driven ATMs aboard cruise ships, came aboard another cruise line yesterday. BankAtlantic and Royal Caribbean Cruises have begun installing satellite-driven ATMs aboard 10 cruise ships in the Royal Caribbean Ltd. fleet. Royal Caribbean says its ‘Sovereign of the Seas’ cruise ship now has the first operational ATM of the deal. BankAtlantic pioneered the placement of real time, satellite- driven ATMs aboard Carnival Cruise Line SuperLiners in 1995, which was followed in 1996 with a similar agreement to operate ATMs aboard ships of Celebrity Cruises.  Including the new Royal Caribbean installations announced today, BankAtlantic will operate ATMs aboard 26 cruise ships. The Royal Caribbean deal extends BankAtlantic ship-based ATMs worldwide by serving vessels in the cruise markets of Hawaii, Europe, the Mediterranean, Mexico, Bermuda, the Panama Canal, Canada and Alaska. Regional ATM cards are processed via the Honor System.


SmarTalk Buys Worldwide Direct

SmarTalk TeleServices,Inc. announced this week that it has acquired Worldwide Direct, the leading direct-to-consumer distributor of prepaid cellular telephones, as part of its launch of SmarTalk’s prepaid cellular rollout which is scheduled to begin immediately. Worldwide Direct currently provides a wireless footprint in over 94% of the country serving tens of thousands of active customers. This acquisition provides terminal-based prepaid capability and, when combined with SmarTalk’s recently announced alliance with BCG (Boston Communications Group) and the recently acquired DCN (Debit Cellular Network) technology, will position SmarTalk as a national leader in the prepaid cellular and wireless market.

The purchase is a stock-for-stock transaction in which SmarTalk will issue 2.71 million shares of its common stock to the current shareholders of Worldwide Direct. SmarTalk will also assume just over $1 million in existing Worldwide debt. SmarTalk intends to seek approval from the Securities and Exchange Commission to account for the acquisition on a pooling-of-interests basis. The transaction is also subject to approval by Nasdaq of the listing of the SmarTalk shares to be offered as consideration for the acquisition.

“We now control the leading direct-to-consumer distributors in the prepaid wireless business,” stated SmarTalk CEO Erich Spangenberg. “It’s the ultimate storefront — one that’s open 24-hours-a-day, 7-days-a-week. This unit will not only drive the sale of cellular handsets, but will also reinforce the Company’s brand strategy through its extensive broadcast and print media program. By selling SmarTalk co-branded prepaid cell phone handsets, we will increase the demand for the airtime required to use those handsets. “This move furthers the Company’s strategy of making the SmarTalk card a nationally-branded currency which consumers can obtain at retail for the purchase of prepaid telecommunications products and related services. We will drive handsets into the marketplace which should increase brand recognition and ultimately drive more consumers to our retailer network to purchase more prepaid cellular time,” continued Mr. Spangenberg. “As a company, SmarTalk was founded on the concept of developing innovative distribution methods for the sale of transaction-based telecom products. The Company’s growth was driven by our ability to penetrate the retail channel, which at the time represented a unique way to sell telecommunications products. Traditional telecom companies were built through direct sales such as telemarketing, direct mail, etc. For SmarTalk to also go direct- to-consumer, through another innovative medium, is a logical extension of our selling strategy and is a proven method of selling telecom products.”

Based in Framingham, MA, Worldwide Direct specializes in using direct-response television (DRTV) advertising to sell postpaid and prepaid cellular products.

Worldwide Direct produces and airs television commercials inviting consumers to call a toll-free number to place orders, and handles the bulk of the calls in their own 24-hour call center.

“In solidifying our prepaid cellular program, we are delivering a new level of true, cost effective, one-stop shopping service to both consumers and retailers,” said Victor N. Grillo, President of Worldwide Direct.

“This is very exciting news for retailers as it strengthens our leadership position in delivering prepaid cellular phone services to the customer.”

Jeff Lindauer, SmarTalk President and COO, added, “One of the most exciting factors about this direct-to-consumer approach is that it’s the classic `razor blade’ story. We will endeavor to pump out phones through this pipeline, which will drive consumers to our retail channel to buy SmarTalk cards and ultimately to recharge their phones. We’ve been seeking a dominant position in the prepaid cellular market. The acquisition of Worldwide and the integration of the DRTV approach will supplement our other soon-to-be launched prepaid cellular product offerings. Recent studies by the leading independent telecom research organization, The Yankee Group, indicate that the prepaid cellular market is currently a $1.3 billion industry, but will approach $20 billion by the year 2000. Therefore, this is an important and strategic move for SmarTalk.”

SmarTalk recently announced a strategic alliance with Boston Communications Group, the leading provider of prepaid wireless services to the wireless telecommunications industry, which will give major national wireless carriers the opportunity to capitalize on SmarTalk’s broad-based national distribution channel and to use SmarTalk brand phone cards as a virtual “currency” for their customers to recharge prepaid wireless phones.

SmarTalk TeleServices, Inc. currently maintains distribution agreements with the U.S. Postal Service and leading mass merchandisers, consumer electronics retailers, supermarkets, hotels, home office superstores and convenience stores throughout North America and the U.K. The Company also creates promotional phone card programs for advertisers and corporate clients. Visit the SmarTalk website at [][1].

SmarTalk management will hold a conference call for analysts and investors to discuss the transaction on Thursday, June 11th, at 7:00 AM (EDT). Participants are encouraged to call in at least 10 minutes in advance. For access, dial 1-800-553-3734. The conference ID number is 323542. (From overseas dial 1-303-267-1002.) A replay of the conference call will be available for 48 hours by dialing 1-800-696-1563. (From overseas dial 1-303-267-1037.) The same conference ID number is required.



AmEx Belgium

American Express and Belgium’s Generale Bank are forming a joint venture to issue American Express cards in Belgium. Under the agreement announced Thursday, the existing American Express Card portfolio and the license to issue cards in Belgium will transfer to the new company, Alpha Card c.v.b.a.  The joint venture will, later this year, acquire customers through Generale Bank’s branch office network and will also offer cards to non-bank customers. Yesterday’s deal brings total AmEx banking partnerships to more than 40 in 30 countries, most of them put in place in the past 18 months. Generale Bank will hold a majority share in the new company, which will be managed by executives from both corporations. Peter Fimmers, Marketing Manager, Consumer Banking at Generale Bank will lead the new operation, which will be headquartered in Brussels. Generale Bank has more than two million private and business customers through its network of 1100 branches.


AmEx Funds World Historic Monuments

The World Monuments Fund in New York announced Thursday that the American Express Company will award $1 million in emergency grants to 19 historic sites on the World Monuments Watch 1998-99 List of 100 Most Endangered Sites.  Bonnie Burnham, President, World Monuments Fund and Harvey Golub, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of American Express, made the announcement today during a reception at the Capitol. Dallas Massey Sr., Chairman,  White Mountain Apache Tribe, described the plans to restore Ft. Apache in Arizona, and Mrs. Mica Ertegun spoke about efforts to conserve Brancusi’s “Endless Column” in Romania.

The World Monuments Watch, a global program launched in 1995 with lead funding from American Express Company, aims to call attention to imperiled cultural heritage sites and direct timely financial support to their preservation.  American Express has committed $5 million to the program over a five-year period.

These historic sites — damaged by floods, earthquakes, fire, pollution, neglect, sprawl, or the ravages of war — include such popular destinations as Mesa Verde,  Colorado as well as lesser-known treasures like the Russakov Club, Moscow (a 1929 masterpiece by architect Konstantin Melnikov).  Other sites funded:

— “The Endless Column” in Romania.  Although this towering tribute to World War I heroes by sculptor Constantin Brancusi is a symbol of national pride, its copper-coated iron modules are dangerously corroded.

— Ft. Apache in Arizona, from which the U.S. cavalry staged assaults against the Apache tribes, has a tragic and important story, but without a plan for re-use as a cultural center, these buildings might perish.

— Jufu Hall, Beijing.  This 15th-century imperial hall is currently in danger of falling into ruin.  Here, the emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties — in an annual spring ritual honoring agriculture — exchanged their robes for peasant garb and conducted ritual plowing.

— The ancient temples at Mnajdra, Malta — dating from 3,600 BC and perhaps the oldest surviving free-standing stone structures in the world — might collapse if  conservation measures are not soon implemented.


AT&T Card via USA Today

AT&T will announce their new calling card to the consumer through USA TODAY’s new AD/IMPAC product and promotional sampling program.

On June, 15th, a phone card will be distributed in an insert located in USA TODAY newspapers nationwide.  The card introduces the, AT&T one rate calling card plan.  With this card, callers will get one low rate a minute, anytime, anywhere in the U.S. on all long distance AT&T Calling Card calls when making the call yourself.

“We’re extremely excited to be working with AT&T on this product sampling campaign,” says Darrin Wilson, President of Maverick Media, Inc.  “The AD/IMPAC program is an effective way for AT&T to reach a vast number of people through the largest national newspaper, putting an actual product into the hands of their consumers.”

Maverick Media, Inc., administrator of AD/IMPAC, produces, executes, and facilitates the product sampling vehicle through USA TODAY exclusively. Maverick Media, Inc. is headquartered in Newport Beach, Calif.


Bankruptcy Reform

With more than 72% of the U.S. House of Representatives voting this week in favor of the Bankruptcy Reform Act of 1998, it seems inevitable that Congress will pass some kind of bankruptcy reform before the end of this year. The strong bipartisan support of H.R. 3150 in the House was applauded by the credit industry’s Bankruptcy Issues Council. BIC says reform will restore common sense, personal responsibility and fairness to our bankruptcy system. The group says it was particularly pleased that the House also approved the Boucher/Gekas amendment to elevate child support and alimony payments to number one on the priority list in a bankruptcy proceeding. It is likely the Senate will pass similar legislation by the end of the summer.


CUCC Selects EPS

Electronic Payment Services was selected by the Credit Union Consumers’ Cooperative (CUCC) as a preferred EFT vendor for its member credit unions.  EPS will provide electronic transaction processing services, including terminal driving for ATMs and advanced self-service terminals, processing for VISA and MasterCard debit cards, and gateway services. CUCC was organized in April of 1997 to acquire and distribute goods and services for the benefit of credit unions and their members throughout New Hampshire.


Bottom Fishing Bonanza

There continues to be no contraction in the secured and sub-prime credit card market. Indeed the growth in this segment is nearly four times the growth of the co-branded segment. According to the latest issue of Bankcard Barometer, the secured/subprime segment is growing 45% annually compared to 16% for the co-branded segment, based on 1Q-98 receivables. What was regarded just a few years ago as bottom fishing has turned into a real bonanza. Secured/sub-prime specialists are not only building balances they’re generating substantial fees. Average balances are well below the current average of $2,035 and YTD volume is significantly off the industry average of $1,084. However, balances have increased sharply over the past three years. First Premier Bank of Sioux Falls SD is perhaps the best example of the aggressive fee pricing. First Premier charges annual fees, monthly participation fees and monthly customer service fees. Many of First Premier’s sub-prime products assess first year fees in excess of $200, for a minimum $300 credit line.

                               SECURED/SUB-PRIME SEGMENT
ISSUER                1Q98vs1Q97        GWTH        BAL       VOL
Providian            $8.7b-$6.7b        +60%      $2486      $657
Direct Merchants     $3.6b-$1.8b       +100%      $1760      $387
First Consumers      $299m-$211m      +42%      $ 972      $456
Orchard Bank         $172m-$110m      +57%      $ 708      $298
First Premier        $ 62m-$ 32m       +94%      $ 251      $ 97
AVERAGES:                               +45%      $1235      $379

  1Q98vs1Q97- first quarter receivables;
GWTH- annual % of growth;
BAL- average balance per active account;
VOL- average YTD volume per active account
         SOURCE: Bankcard Barometer, May 98 issue