RoboServer Systems Targets QSR Self-Serve

RoboServer Systems has introduced a kiosk-like machine for self-ordering at fast-food and quick-serve restaurants. The new “RoboServer” is powered by a Dell “Optiplex GX60” computer system. The machine uses the KIS “Stealth 110” kiosk body and runs RoboServer Systems’ proprietary software. Users place their order using a touchscreen and then pay for their order with the machine’s bill acceptor or credit card processor. RoboServer Systems has been in business for three years. There are more than 115,000 fast-food restaurants in the U.S. producing $140 billion in sales annually.

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Revolving Credit Takes a Big Dip in Nov

Revolving credit nose-dived in November as consumers cut more than $7 billion off total revolving credit. The 11% fall-off follows an explosion in revolving credit in September when growth soared by nearly 18%. According to the Federal Reserve, Americans owed $780.9 billion in revolving credit at the end of November, compared to $787.5 billion for October. One-year ago revolving credit stood at approximately $755 billion. In October revolving credit hit an all-time high of $787.5 billion. Bank credit card debt (excluding store and gas credit cards) at the end of the third quarter was $662 billion, or roughly 84% of total revolving credit, according to CardData ([www.carddata.com][1]). At the end of November, Americans were $2085.4 billion in debt, excluding home mortgages.

REVOLVING CREDIT HISTORICAL ($billions)
Nov 04 Oct 04 Sep 04 Jun 04 Mar 04 Dec 03
GRWTH: -11.0% 3.7 17.8 10.4 -1.9 5.4
$OWED: $780.3 787.5 785.1 765.2 768.9 758.7
Source: Federal Reserve; revised figures as of 1/07/05;
For complete historical data visit CardData (www.carddata.com)

[1]: http://www.carddata.com

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LaserCard Quarterly Revenues Soften

LaserCard estimates its revenues for the fourth calendar quarter to be in the range of $6.0 to $6.2 million compared to $7.8 million in the prior quarter, and the firm also announced it has hired San Francisco-based Odenberg, Ullakko, Muranishi as its new independent registered accounting firm. The Company will provide further information in its earnings call early in February. LaserCard Corporation (www.lasercard.com) manufactures and markets LaserCard(R) optical memory cards, chip-ready Smart/Optical(TM) cards and other advanced-technology secure identification cards.

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Western Union Cuts Fees for Southeast Asia

Western Union has cut its money transfer fee to $7 for transfers to Indonesia, Malaysia, Maldives, Sri Lanka, Thailand and the effected areas of India through February 15th. In addition, the Foundation has agreed to match all donations made directly to the Foundation by First Data/Western Union employees to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. Similar programs are in place for Western Union agents. Western Union Financial Services, Inc., a subsidiary of First Data Corp. (NYSE: FDC) is an international leader in consumer money transfer services. Consumers can quickly and reliably pay bills and transfer money around the globe using the company’s proprietary money transfer network. The First Data Western Union Foundation, the charitable organization of First Data Corporation (NYSE: FDC), supports philanthropic initiatives worldwide.

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Online Consumer Spending Jumps 26% in 2004

Online consumer retail spending and online travel spending topped $117 billion last year, a 26% gain over 2003. During the recent holiday season, consumers racked up $15.8 billion in online retail sales and $7.8 billion in online travel sales, a 29% and 28% year-over-year gain, respectively. comScore Networks says its research shows that a group of 25 multi-channel retailers, or those conducting sales both online and offline, posted an aggregate year-over-year growth rate that was approximately twice that of online retail in total. comScore Networks noted that through December, holiday season growth was tracking at 23% but it accelerated dramatically during the weeks ending December 19 and December 26, with sales growing by 57% and 53%, respectively.

Online Consumer Spending
Excludes Auctions and Large Corporate Purchases

2003 2004 Y/Y CHNG
(billions) (billions)
Non-Travel (Retail) $52.9 $66.5 26%
Travel $40.4 $50.9 26%
Total $93.2 $117.4 26%
Source: comScore Networks

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Arby’s Launches the First QSR Gift Card

Arby’s System has teamed with Comdata’s Stored Value Systems to launch the first gift card for a quick service restaurant. Available now at participating restaurants, customers can purchase gift cards in any amount between $5 and $50. The electronic card replaces the old paper gift certificate program. Comdata Corporation (www.comdata.com) is redefining the movement of money and information through technology for businesses, their customers and employees. Arby’s, LLC is an innovative restaurant company, bringing consumers fresh and unique tasting food.

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EMERGING THINKING

The Competition Commission has raised concerns over the limited
competitive pressure on store credit card pricing and payment protection
insurance sold with such cards.
The CC document, “Emerging Thinking,” suggests that consumers are insensitive to store card costs and that they lack choice for insurance services sold with the cards.
The document has been delivered to store card issuers in the U.K. and the parties are being asked to respond to the “Emerging Thinking” by the end of January. The CC then plans a further round of hearings during February. The Emerging Thinking document identifies two interdependent markets: an “upstream” market for the provision of store card credit and related services to retailers by credit providers; and a “downstream” market for the provision by credit providers and retailers jointly of store card and related services to the retailer’s customers. The CC is required to investigate whether any “features” of the relevant markets prevent, restrict or distort competition. The $9 billion U.K. store card market is dominated by four players who control 90% of the market. The inquiry was referred by the Office of Fair Trading March 18, 2004. The CC is required to publish its final report by March 17, 2006.

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Standard Chartered Buys Korea First Bank

Standard Chartered has signed an agreement to acquire Korea First Bank for approximately US$3.3 billion in cash. Korea First Bank will also represent approximately 22% of Standard Chartered’s assets post acquisition, using pro forma data as at 30 June 2004, making it Standard Chartered’s second largest market, by assets, after Hong Kong.
Korea First Bank is the seventh largest banking group in Korea by
assets, with a market share of approximately 6% and over 3 million
retail customers. Korea First Bank has a strong track record of credit
quality with one of the lowest ratios of non-performing loans. The deal is expected to be completed by the end of April.

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A-P Consumer Confidence Mostly Optimistic

The latest “MasterIndex of Consumer Confidence” survey has found that 9 of 13 Asia/Pacific markets had an optimistic outlook, compared to 11 in the preceding survey conducted six-months ago. The bi-yearly MasterCard survey reveals that, overall, consumer confidence in Asia/Pacific withstood the tumultuous 2003-2004 period despite the series of external shocks of SARS, Iraq War, avian flu, and the spiking of the world price of oil. In the latest survey, Indonesia, Vietnam and China topped the list of markets with a highly positive outlook; other optimistic markets included Hong Kong, Malaysia, New Zealand, Australia, Thailand and Singapore. Markets with a pessimistic outlook over the next six months are Korea, the Philippines and Japan. Indonesia took the lead from Vietnam and tops the region with a near record high consumer confidence of 94.7. Consumer optimism in Vietnam looks set to prevail, with a “MasterIndex” score of 90.8 remaining relatively unchanged from six months ago (91.6) and a year ago (91.0). China (81.3) remains highly optimistic for the next six months, with the latest “MasterIndex” improving from six months ago (78.9). Over the “MasterIndex” score for the region was 63.2 compared to 65.8 in the last six-month period and compared to 68.4 one-year ago.

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Metris Licenses Katz Call Center Technology

Metris Companies has licensed financial services call processing from Ronald Katz Technology Licensing. These services, including customer service provided to consumer and business accounts, are delivered through automated systems as well as the combination of automated systems and live agents. Other terms of the license were not disclosed. Metris Companies Inc. (NYSE: MXT), based in Minnetonka, Minn., is one of the largest bankcard issuers in the United States.

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Internet is a Separate Channel, nor Business

A new research report has found that there are as many active cardholders online now as there were active online banking users in 2002. Celent Communications says its study shows that most card issuers have not put significant effort into their online cardholder services and it is evident in relatively low adoption. However, card issuers that have excelled in online sales and services have treated the Internet as a separate channel rather than a separate business. Moreover, they have leveraged it not just as a passive channel but also as a proactive marketing channel. They have discovered that at numerous points along a customer’s life cycle-from the information-intensive customer attraction and acquisition phases to the customer service phase-the Internet channel not only improves results but also lowers cost. By building better online sales and service, issuers are finding-as did their counterparts in the retail bank-that more customers will come and that active online customer rates over 30% percent are achievable.

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Banks Miss Online Card Cross-Sell Opportunities

Online banking and bill payment have become a leading driver influencing consumers’ selection of banks and their perception of bank brands. According to the Keynote Systems’ study, National City, Washington Mutual and Bank of America were the banking sites providing the best online customer experience. More than 56% of consumers in the study said online banking and bill payment services were a very important factor in choosing a bank; ahead of considerations such as the physical location of bank branches (45%) and ATMs (52%). Keynote says that despite the growth and improvements in online banking, most banks have failed to use the online channel successfully to cross sell or grow their wallet share with their customer base. Often, an institution’s banking services, credit card offerings and other services will be messaged on the homepage, and are not easily accessible when a customer is logged into their banking account. Customers express the most interest in credit cards (38%), savings accounts (21%) and mortgages (21%) offered by their banks.

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