Visa Pursuing the World's Wealthy with 'Infinite' Card

Article excerpt

By KINGSON-BLOOM, JENNIFER

Visa International announced plans to introduce Visa Infinite, a premium card for global travelers.

Approved last week at a board meeting in Buenos Aires, the card is the latest in a high-stakes game to attract some of the most affluent of bank customers.

American Express Co. has always held the lion's share of the super- premium market with its platinum card. MasterCard International brought out its new entry, the World card, in October 1997.

Visa offers platinum cards worldwide and the upscale Signature card in the United States. Visa Infinite is "positioned to be a new and different type of global premium card," said Una Somerville, executive vice president of current products and services at Visa International.

The card is geared for the wealthiest 1% to 5% of consumers in each country, Ms. Somerville said. This population "tends to be very similar as you look around the globe-they're active, they're affluent, technologically savvy, and looking for a consistent set of services as they travel to different parts of the world."

Visa Infinite's distinguishing characteristics will include a Web site available only to cardholders, with information useful for making travel plans. A concierge service will help fulfill requests through the site.

Visa also has signed up several dozen merchant partners that will post news on the site about special offers and discounts. These include Ritz- Carlton Hotels, Avis Rent A Car, Galeries Lafayette, and Burberry's of London.

No banks have signed up to issue the card yet, Ms. Somerville said, but "we think that many of the banks are going to target private banking customers" with it.

An American Express spokeswoman said that Visa Infinite "doesn't sound that different" from Visa's Signature card and that it will not pose much of a threat.

"Concierge, special services-those are longtime benefits of our platinum card," said the spokeswoman, Judy Tenzer. "There have been many new entries to the (premium) marketplace, but there has yet to be one that comes anywhere near what our platinum card offers."

Ralph Bianco, MasterCard's senior vice president of global product management and development, called Infinite "another 'me-too' product. …