VISA Gift Wrap Underway

Santa’s not the only big attraction in malls this holiday season. Visa U.S.A.’s Free Gift Wrap campaign is drawing crowds for its third consecutive year – and drawing millions of dollars into participating malls.

This year, Visa and its mall partner, Chicago-based General Growth Properties, Inc. (GGP), expect to exceed the results of last year’s program, which helped generate $23 million in sales at shopping centers across the United States. In fact, when surveyed last year, one-third of gift wrap customers said the Visa Free Gift Wrap promotion had been “very important” in determining where they did their holiday shopping.

From now until December 24, 1997, shoppers in more than 100 participating GGP malls across the country can have as many as three Visa card purchases per day gift-wrapped on site for free by volunteers from local non-profit groups. In exchange, these groups will receive donations from the shopping centers. This cause-related component helped the promotion garner a Merit Award for Excellence from the International Council of Shopping Centers in 1996.

Last holiday season, volunteers from more than 150 groups wrapped 585,000 gifts and earned a combined $512,000 for their nonprofit organizations, which ranged from high school clubs to community service associations to local branches of national charities.

“The program really delivers when and where it’s needed most,” said Tom Edwards, senior vice president, market development and acceptance, Visa U.S.A. “Shopping centers see increased traffic during the most crucial time of year; merchants enjoy higher sales volume; and card transaction volume rises for Visa’s member banks. And, of course, busy shoppers get a helping hand, and nonprofit groups benefit from much-needed donations.”

This year’s free gift wrap program will be promoted through local television, radio and print advertising, as well as in mall and point-of-sale signage.

General Growth Properties is one of the oldest, largest and most experienced shopping center owners, developers and managers in the United States. It currently has ownership interests in, or management responsibilities for, 119 shopping malls in 38 states, encompassing approximately 92 million square feet. This includes a mall recently opened in Waterbury, Conn., and another scheduled to open in July 1998 in Coralville, Iowa. For more information, visit the company’s Web site at .

Visa is the preffered payment brand and the largest consumer payment system worldwide. It plays a pivotal role in advancing new payment products and technologies to benefit its 21,000 memeber financial institutions, their cardholders, and the global economy. Visa is the only consumer payment system to facilitate $1 trillion worth of purchases of goods and services in a fiscal year. Visa’s nearly 600 million cards are accepted at more than 14 million worldwide locations, including 380,000 ATMs in the Visa/PLUS Global ATM Network. Visa’s Internet address is [www.visa.com][1].

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

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NDC Signs Sterling Vision

National Data Corporation announced today that it has signed a contract with Sterling Vision, Inc. to provide a variety of electronic payment services for the optometric chain.

Under the agreement, more than 100 of Sterling Vision’s corporate and franchise locations will begin using NDC’s check guarantee services. The chain also renewed an agreement to use NDC for credit card processing.

“An increasing number of health care providers are turning to National Data for our full complement of payment services,” said Tom Dunn, NDC’s general manager of Integrated Payment Services. “We are pleased to expand our partnership with Sterling Vision by providing different payment options for their patients.”

Sterling Vision, based in Long Island, is one of the fastest-growing retail eyewear and optometric chains in the country.

National Data Corporation is a leading provider of information services for the payment systems and health care markets.

When used in this report, press releases and elsewhere by management or the Company from time to time, the words “believes,” “anticipates,” “expects” and similar expressions are intended to identify forward-looking statements concerning the Company’s operations, economic performance and financial condition, including in particular, the likelihood of the Company’s success in developing and expanding its business. These statements are based on a number of assumptions and estimates which are inherently subject to significant uncertainties and contingencies, many of which are beyond the control of the Company, and reflect future business decisions which are subject to change. A variety of factors could cause actual results to differ materially from those anticipated in the Company’s forward-looking statements, some of which include competition in the market for the Company’s services, continued expansion of the Company’s processing and payment systems markets, successfully completing and integrating acquisitions in existing and new markets and other risk factors that are discussed from time to time in the Company’s Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) reports and other filings. Readers are cautioned not to place undue reliance on these forward-looking statements, which speak only as of the date hereof. The Company undertakes no obligations to publicly release the results of any revisions to these forward-looking statements that may be made to reflect events or circumstances after the date hereof, or thereof, as the case may be, or to reflect the occurrence of unanticipated events.

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S&P Predicts Good Retail Season

Better economic and business fundamentals and profitable third quarters indicate that most U.S. retail companies are well-positioned for the holiday selling season, Standard & Poor’s reports this week.

“Blockbuster Christmas seasons for retailers may be a historical curiosity,” says analyst Jerry Hirschberg. Consumers are buying more gifts and apparel during the year, which is more preferable to retailers. Retailers are trying to mitigate the inventory and margin risk associated with past fourth quarter holiday shopping surges by generating more significant sales during the year. “Although a lot of progress has been made, there is still a long way to go, and the fourth quarter remains the most critical,” Mr. Hirschberg adds.

According to the special report featured in this week’s edition of Standard & Poor’s CreditWeek, 1997 proved to be a good year for retail sector credit quality. Credit quality is expected to remain stable in 1998 with over 60 percent of retail credit ratings currently carrying a stable outlook. “A general improvement in credit quality has occurred, partly the result of better business practices and low interest rates, which have helped companies refinance much of their high-cost debt,” adds Mr. Hirschberg. The result is better protection for bondholders. Credit quality over the past few years has also been helped by the tremendous equity market, say analysts. Retail companies have been able to sell stock to improve their balance sheets and acquire other companies for stock.

“The one negative that some have highlighted is high consumer debt levels,” adds analyst Ron Buck. However, despite high debt, consumers are still spending and unemployment is at its lowest in 24 years.

Credit quality has been generally good for retail as an industry; however, certain sectors are still struggling. “We are seeing a number of specialty retailers struggle this year,” says analyst Mary Lou Burde. Specialty apparel retailers, for example, are losing consumers to large department stores, which have been doing quite well. The footwear sector has also had some difficulties recently with Woolworth’s Footlocker reporting a poor third quarter.

Analysts are also anticipating the effects recent market turmoil may have on the retail industry. “The turmoil in the U.S. markets has not had an effect on what consumers are buying so far,” says Mr. Hirschberg. However, analysts cite a couple of possible effects the market turmoil may have on spending. One, is the “wealth factor,” which assumes consumer spending is affected by shrinking stock portfolios. In the past, economists have found the impact of shrinking portfolios on consumer spending to be relatively small. Market turmoil can also affect the consumer psyche which, according to Mr. Buck, is a more significant factor. “This is a bigger risk to retailers in the short run in terms of a potential pullback in consumer spending,” adds Mr. Buck. Considering that a large percentage of individuals hold stocks directly or in pension retirement holdings, the wealth impact is less of a factor than the psychological impact.

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PMT Finalizes American Heritage Deal

Richardson M. Roberts, Chairman and Cheif Executive Officer of PMT Services, Inc., today announced the consummation of the previously announced acquisition of American Heritage Bankcard.

An independent service organization, American Heritage produces annual revenues of approximately $26 million. In addition to its own merchant account portfolio with annualized charge volume of approximately $800 million, American Heritage services an account portfolio for others that generates annualized charge volume of approximately $1.8 billion. American Heritage also brings an experienced sales force to PMT, which currently produces approximately 700 new merchant accounts per month. The transaction will be accounted for as a pooling of interests. ![][1]

With the consummation of this transaction, PMT has completed three acquisitions thus far in fiscal 1998 that will be expected to contribute more than $80 million in annual revenues. The aggregate portfolio gained from these acquisitions generates approximately $3.3 billion annualized charge volume, excluding the $1.8 billion of annualized charge volume from the portfolio American Heritage services. In addition, these three acquisitions provide a combined sales force of more than 100 seasoned sales people, currently producing approximately 1,000 new merchant accounts monthly.

Investors are cautioned that this release contains forward-looking statements, such as those relating to annual revenue expectations for the three fiscal 1998 acquisitions, that are based upon current expectations and involve a number of risks and uncertainties. Actual operations and results may differ materially from those expressed in the forward-looking statements made by the Company. The factors that could cause actual results to vary include PMT’s ability to retain the field sales forces of these companies and the ongoing performance of the field sales forces; the Company’s ability to integrate the acquisitions successfully with its processing systems and products; the attrition of merchants from acquired portfolios; and other trends or uncertainties as noted in PMT’s periodic filings with the SEC.

PMT Services, Inc. is an independent service organization which markets and services electronic credit card authorization and payment systems to small retail and professional businesses located throughout the United States. PMT’s account portfolio has grown through the internal development of accounts using telemarketing and a field sales force as well as through the purchase of account portfolios. PMT is one of the largest independent service organizations in the country.

[1]: /graphic/pmt/roberts.gif

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Charge-Offs Stabilize

Charge-offs among credit card-backed securities declined five basis points to 6.61% for October based on performance data released last week. According to Standard & Poor’s ‘Credit Quality Index’, charge-offs ratios have been stable for the last three months however they remain significantly higher than October 1996’s ratio of 5.6%. Among major trusts with the largest declines: Capital One down 90 basis points and Household down 70 basis points. Card bonds with the largest increases include First Deposit and Banc One. First USA and Citibank were unchanged.

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Xmas Card Volume

U.S. consumers will charge about $3.5 billion per day during the 27 Christmas shopping days between the day after Thanksgiving and Christmas Day this year. According to the December issue of CardTrak, to be released this morning, consumers will rack up $95.3 billion of charges on general purpose bank credit cards/charge cards and private label store cards. CardTrak predicts consumers will charge $71.1 billion on VISA, MasterCard, and Discover credit cards and all American Express cards. About $8.0 billion will be transacted on ‘VISA Check Cards’ and ‘MasterMoney’ cards. Store card volume should be $16.2 billion for the 1997 Christmas shopping season. Card volume among retail merchants will make of $78.7 billion of the total volume. A number of recent polls suggests overall consumer spending will rise between 3% and 5% this year.

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IBAA Awards

IBAA Bancard gave top credit card marketing awards this year to Farmers and Merchants Bank of Stanley, VA; Bank of Sierra of Porterville, CA and Cashmere Valley Bank of Cashmere, WA. Cashmere realized a 15% increase in accounts following an aggressive campaign driven by an employee incentive program and supported by newspaper ads. Farmers & Merchants launched a successful six-month promotion at a local county fair supported by an employee incentive program and radio/newspaper ads. Bank of Sierra’s success in affinity card programs and agent services was also recognized. This was the second year as a ‘Top 3’ winner for Sierra. According to CardData/Bankcard Update, Bank of Sierra has grown from $13.5 million to $15.6 million in outstandings and from 8,470 to 10,440 active accounts between 2Q96 and 3Q97.

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Yahoo!/VISA Shopping Guide

Every year people around the nation gear up for the holiday shopping season. Shoppers brave weather conditions, over-crowded stores, traffic snarls and tight parking conditions — all to get the ideal gifts for loved-ones, friends and colleagues. This holiday season, Yahoo! offers shoppers an alternative – the VISA Shopping Guide by Yahoo!. And to help shoppers find gifts at good values, Yahoo! is introducing new features for the VISA Shopping Guide, including a “personal shopper” service and special discounts.

“People are beginning to shop online more and more,” said Elizabeth Collet, manager of online commerce at Yahoo!. “Shopping on the Internet is fast and easy, and it allows individuals to conveniently shop in the comfort of their home or office anytime of the day or night. By providing a directory of online merchants as well as other time-saving and informational resources, the VISA Shopping Guide by Yahoo! provides the ideal starting point to help shoppers find what they want quickly and easily.”

Comprehensive Guide to Shopping

The VISA Shopping Guide by Yahoo! provides an ideal solution for shoppers who are short of time or want to avoid crowds during the holidays. Using the guide, individuals can shop from home or at the office — anywhere with an Internet connection, 24-hours a day. The VISA Shopping Guide features 27 different categories to browse through and provides shoppers with access to merchants and resources for the most popular areas of online shopping, including everything from apparel, sporting goods and electronics to cigars, music and toys. Merchants include a variety of the most popular, top-quality online vendors such as FAO Schwartz, FTD, The Gap, Land’s End, REI, Spiegel, Virtual Vineyards and Wal-Mart to name a few. Yahoo! has also introduced a new “personal shopper” product search feature to help users further sort through merchant offerings and quickly get to the gifts they want to purchase.

For consumers who want to research products or services before they buy, the VISA Shopping Guide provides direct access to product details from vendor sites and editorial from magazines as well as a variety of online resources from yahoo.com, the world’s leading guide to the Internet. Additionally, individuals can access consumer resources from experts such as the Better Business Bureau and the Consumer Information Center for tips to help ensure a safe and pleasant shopping experience this holiday season.

Know the Perfect Gift, But Don’t Have Time to Surf for It?

Starting today, the VISA Shopping Guide by Yahoo! is making it even easier for people to maximize the efficiency of their online shopping experience with the new “personal shopper” product search. Created in conjunction with Junglee (), a leading provider of search aggregation services, the new feature allows individuals to search for and find specific items throughout the entire shopping guide — without having to surf through all of the different merchants. For example, someone looking for a CD player can go to the Electronics category, choose to search for CD players by brand and/or price and then click “search.” The “personal shopper” automatically searches through all of the online merchants on the VISA Shopping Guide by Yahoo! that offer CD players and returns a results list with all of the pertinent information needed to make a buying decision — the name of the merchant offering the product, the brand type, price, product features, shipping information and a link directly to the merchant to buy the product or obtain more information. This significantly reduces the time individuals need to spend surfing through the various merchant sites in the VISA Shopping Guide by Yahoo! to find the best deals for their gift ideas.

Special Offers for First USA Cardholders

Through Jan. 1, several merchants on the Guide in conjunction with First USA are offering special discounts for purchases made with a First USA credit card. The list of merchants offering specials include popular online and offline merchants such as Land’s End, Fitness Zone, Amazon.com, [http://www.Toys.com][1], Bruno Brothers, iBike, CDnow, Garden Escape and Soft*Mania.

About Yahoo! Yahoo! Inc. (Nasdaq: YHOO) is a global Internet media company that offers a network of branded Web programming that serves millions of users daily. As the first online navigational guide to the Web, http://www.yahoo.com is the single largest guide in terms of traffic, advertising, household and business user reach, and is one of the most recognized brands associated with the Internet. Yahoo! Inc. provides targeted Internet resources and communications services for a broad range of audiences, based on demographic, key-subject and geographic interests. Yahoo! is headquartered in Santa Clara, Calif.

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

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Edmark Selects TransactionWEB

Seattle-based Internet services provider AccessOne, Inc. and electronic commerce solution provider CobWeb, Inc. announced today that their TransactionWEB service has been selected by IBM educational services company Edmark as the foundation for its fully integrated e-commerce Web site.

AccessOne provides the fully-secured, scalable TransactionWEB service, which is built on CobWeb’s Merchant Gateway product. To provide customers with downloads and online ordering of its educational software products, Edmark will use TransactionWEB to create a secure environment facilitating all aspects of Web commerce and electronic order processing, including credit card transactions, electronic software distribution and hard goods fulfillment and distribution.

“TransactionWEB provides us with a turnkey e-commerce solution with extensive capabilities at a low cost,” said Anthony Kong, Director – Information Technology Services of Edmark. “AccessOne and CobWeb have leveraged their collective Web and application development expertise to provide top-notch technological solutions that complement where the emerging market of online electronic commerce is going. TransactionWEB is a prime example of that.”

Between the fall and the holiday season, Edmark plans to introduce over the Internet seven software titles in creativity, education and reference. “The breadth of our fall software products demonstrate our momentum in this market, and TransactionWEB facilitates our commitment to bring families the best educational information directly to the home,” said Kong.

Additional TransactionWEB benefits include high volume, high speed credit card transactions, fraud detection and tax calculations. The user-friendly service also features the EDI business-to-business standard for formatting purchase orders and allows customers to pay per transaction.

“Electronic commerce is most definitely the force behind the Internet’s growth as a must-have, mainstream business operation,” said Colleen Coady, Marketing Director for AccessOne. “We and our partners at CobWeb understand that business customers need easy-to-use, highly integrated packages that make showcasing, demonstrating and selling a product over the Internet as simple for the customer as walking into the store. TransactionWEB creates this online storefront at a very reasonable cost.”

The TransactionWEB Internet site ( ) provides merchants with an overview of the process and components required to give a commercial Web site the capability for transaction processing, and offers a real-time online demonstration.

“Our mission is to provide the very best in transaction processing to online merchants,” said Richard J. Lancaster, Chief Executive Officer of CobWeb. “We built Merchant Gateway to be independent of the different catalog platforms, so TransactionWEB can be interfaced to any Windows NT, UNIX or Mac-based storefront or catalog Web sites.”

As a member of the Verio Inc. group of locally and regionally managed Internet service providers, AccessOne offers business customers Verio’s unique combination of hands-on, local service backed by a national infrastructure that includes a high-speed national backbone, peering relationships, engineering support and 24-hour customer service as well as access to enhanced service Internet applications including Web hosting, electronic commerce and virtual private networks.

AccessOne, Inc. was founded in April 1994 and is a full-service provider of Internet services and solutions throughout the Puget Sound area. AccessOne currently serves more than 8,000 customers. With points-of-presence and customer service operations in the greater Puget Sound area, AccessOne delivers secure, reliable connectivity and a full range of Internet applications for business and institutional customers, including Web hosting and co-location services, commerce and transaction services and security solutions. AccessOne’s Web site is at ( http://www.accessone.com ). Corporate offices are located in Kirkland at 11321 NE 120th Street, Suite B, 98034, phone number 425-814-9100, fax number 425-814-9105.

Edmark Corporation, an IBM company, is a leading developer and publisher of educational software with more than 25 years experience applying proven educational concepts to the development of educational products for children. The company develops products that run on Macintosh and Windows computers for both consumer and education marketplaces. Edmark’s award-winning line of educational software includes: KidDesk Family Edition and the Early Learning Series. Edmark’s Web site is at ( http://www.edmark.com ) and the company is located in Redmond at 6727 185th Avenue NE, 98052, phone number 425-556-8400.

CobWeb, Inc. was founded in 1994 and specializes in electronic commerce applications, high-end Web development, Internet hosting services and product development for corporations and customers who require real-time, accurate and concise interaction with their target audiences. CobWeb’s clients include Microsoft, Entercom, NetStock Direct, Electric Lightwave and more than 200 Puget Sound businesses. CobWeb’s Web site is at ( http://www.cobweb.com ). Corporate offices are located in Issaquah at 1065 12th NW, Suite E-3, 98027, phone number 888-4COBWEB.

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Phoenix Banking System Expands

Phoenix International Ltd., Inc., a world leader in client/server retail banking management solutions, today announced that the Phoenix Banking System will now be available to banks via a service bureau arrangement with Servers On-Line, Inc., a new information processing data center located in Holbrook, New York. Through this strategic alliance, Servers On-Line will offer financial institutions an alternative delivery channel to the Phoenix client/server based core banking product, which until now, was only available on an in-house basis.

According to officials at both companies, Servers On-Line’s new northeastern service bureau has been designed to overcome the weakness inherent in the traditional service bureau enviornment, namely, antiquated mainframe technology and a lack of personalized service. Servers On-Line specifically chose the Phoenix Banking System for its client/server-based technology, which will allow each bank to have its own dedicated hardware configuration rather than compete for processing resources with other clients. The intended result will be significant operational efficiencies and cost savings for every subscriber.

“For years, we have seen organizations using traditional legacy systems attempting to address current banking issues. These systems, with their old technology and dated architecture, cannot help banks compete effectively in today’s marketplace. Furthermore, the concept of utilizing a mainframe and attempting to realize a profit by taking advantage of economies of scale and sharing system resources is diametrically opposed to providing customized services for each bank,” said Kenneth J. Sole, president of Servers On-Line, Inc.

Sole explained that under the traditional scenario, as the data center comes closer to achieving its own objective–100 percent utilization of the computing resources–the less successful the clients on the service bureau will be in attaining their individual objectives.

Sole continued, “With the Phoenix client/server system, we at long last have a scalable platform that will mitigate these issues and provide the opportunities to meet the challenges that banks face regarding alternative delivery strategies and open architectures. This will allow us to deliver significant competitive advantages.”

The alliance will offer banks the same depth and breadth of applications delivered to Phoenix in-house customers including customer relationship management, teller, ATM, deposits, retirement processing, mortgage lending, line of credit, commercial lending and an executive information system. Servers On-Line also plans to deliver key strategic and technology-based applications such as Internet banking, telephone banking, document imaging, cash management solutions, card services, and item processing. A full range of professional services, from network development, installation and management, to intranet site development, education, training, and consulting, will also be available to every client.

According to Bahram Yusefzadeh, chief executive officer of Phoenix International, “The development of this unique service bureau provides a critical solution to small to mid-size community banks who must compete effectively or lose market share. Phoenix is now able to support those banks who demand state-of-the-art technology but perfer to operate through and oursourcing arrangement. This strategic alliance allows community banks to use the Phoenix Banking System’s client/server technology to more effectively manage their organizations, achieve their business objectives, and compete on a level playing field with other major financial institutions.”

Based in Holbrook, New York, Servers On-Line is an organization that offers outsourced data processing and related services to the community banking market. The methods and systems used in delivering these services are key in differentiating Servers On-Line from competitor service bureaus. By utilizing state-of-the-art client/server-based systems and architectures, Servers On-Line delivers improved operational efficiencies and personalized services to each user.

Through an alliance with Phoenix International, Servers On-Line uses the Phoenix Banking System as its information processing system. A dedicated hardware platform is configured and specifically designed for each financial institution. Servers On-Line delivers a wide array of core banking applications including relationship management, teller, ATM, deposits, retirement processing, mortgage lending, line of credit, commercial lending, and an executive information system tailored to meet each clients’ requirements. Servers On-Line provides a turnkey solution by delivering key strategic and technology-based applications such as Internet banking, telephone banking, document imaging, cash management solutions, card services, network installation and management, and consulting services designed to meet the competitive and evolving demands of the community banking marketplace. For more information, contact Servers On-Line at 516/738-2959, or visit the web site at [www.serversonline.com][1].

Based in Orlando, Florida, Phoenix International is a world leader in installed client/server banking solutions and services for the financial industry. Clients range from community banks to multi-national and international financial organizations.

The company provides the Phoenix Banking System, a fully integrated core banking solution that manages all facets of a bank’s retail and wholesale information processing operations entirely in an open-system, client/server enviornment. Developed to help bankers focus on strategic issues, the system was designed with key management applications as its core including customer relationship information management, on-line customer profitability analysis, financial reporting, an executive information management system and fully integrated teller, phone, ATM, and Internet banking modules.

As a full service provider, Phoenix offers clients a full complement of professional and systems integration services including installation, conversion, implementation, training, customer programming, network solutions, intranet and World Wide Web site development services. For more information, call Phoenix International at 407/548-5100, or visit the Phoenix web site at [www.phoenixint.com][2].

[1]: http://www.serversonline.com
[2]: http://www.phoenixint.com

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They Can Pay

About 25% of all debtors filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy could repay 30% or more of their non-housing debts according to a study released Friday by the Credit Research Center of Georgetown University. The study also noted that 5% of Chapter 7 filers could repay all of what they owe. Among Chapter 13 filers the report found 75% have a significant ability to repay. More than 3.8 million petitions in 13 district courts and 11 states were analyzed.

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