Cards with Cachet ; Gold and Platinum Are Devalued in the Plastic World. Now It's Black, Says Isabel Berwick

By Berwick, Isabel | The Independent (London, England), November 21, 1999 | Go to article overview
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Cards with Cachet ; Gold and Platinum Are Devalued in the Plastic World. Now It's Black, Says Isabel Berwick


Berwick, Isabel, The Independent (London, England)


Y

ou're no one if you haven't been asked to take out a credit card "by invitation only". And that doesn't include a junk mailshot offering a free clock. The seriously rich are approached by word of mouth or via carefully written, personalised letters. And the market is growing - the "by invitation only" World Signia (from Mastercard/ Europay) and Centurion (American Express) cards are being joined by Visa's Infinite. The first UK bank to launch a super-premium card is set to launch its package within days.

So just how much money do you need for this plastic? "It's used for getting orchids flown in from Japan for your daughter's wedding," says Matt Sansom of Amex's Centurion card, citing a real case. These super- luxe cards are targeted at CEOs, top execs, the famous and sundry jetsetters - just 1 to 5 per cent of the market. And the marketing people want to encourage them to use the cards as a one-stop advice shop. All three offer a global concierge service to get you tickets to "sold-out shows", reservations at "hot" restaurants and tips on where to play golf. Visa even offers frequent flyers loyalty points on Infinite - without the petty restrictions that the rest of us face.

The new cool is (of course) black. Amex chose black for Centurion as the gold and platinum card market has been devalued: US card issuers have launched in the UK and offered premium cards to pretty much anyone who earns over pounds 20,000 a year. Some of the high- street banks persist in charging for their gold cards (HSBC wants pounds 35). They do give you some added perks - but you may not be too bothered about HSBC's personal liability insurance.

But many premium cards have the same interest rates as standard cards from the same firms. Capital One's Platinum has 11.9 per cent APR - just like its Premier Visa card. "By invitation only" Platinum comes from a giant mailing database and you don't have to be that special to get it.

Nevertheless, the credit card firms are using technology in increasingly sophisticated ways. Richard Cooper of Visa says: "The UK market is becoming a lot more segmented with small groups being targeted. "

Those who would like a cool black card, but aren't international jetsetters, can hope for an exclusive Goldfish black card. The company is issuing 100 black cards to celebrate its millionth customer by picking the lucky 100 at random from those who apply for Goldfish cards before Christmas. The perk is that Goldfish will pay all your household bills for a year, up to pounds 5,000.

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