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SAN FRANCISCO -Visa has signed the nation’s third largest public power utility, Arizona’s Salt River Project, to become the exclusive card for the utility’s customers to make recurring card payments. Recurring payments to utilities, insurance companies and other regular service providers have been the subject of Visa marketing efforts for some time as the card brand seeks to gain a foothold in a market where debit cards which use a personal identification number have also been seeking an edge. In the fourth quarter of 2004, Visa announced the launch of a targeted campaign to expand card acceptance at residential utility companies. To maximize the $177 billion opportunity for electronic payments in the utilities sector, Visa’s program offered a reduced incentive fee structure, cut consumer fees, demonstrated how utility operation expenses can be curbed through card acceptance and provided specialized support services to participating utilities. In 2004, cardholders paid $69.9 billion in household bills with Visa debit and credit cards, a 25% increase over the previous year. Visa’s volume in the utilities segment increased 44% during the same period. Since the launch of the program it has signed up about 500 residential utilities and has added over seven million consumers to use the service, Visa said. “We’ve worked aggressively over the last three years to develop a solution uniquely tailored to help utilities fulfill critical objectives,” said Jim Eitler, vice president, merchant relations, Visa USA. “Through payment card acceptance, our utility merchants can provide better service to their customers and attain the broad operational benefits and value that payment with cash and checks cannot deliver.” Visa’s relationship with Salt River Project enables cardholders to schedule regular payments with their Visa credit or Visa check card to automatically pay their electric bills, allowing them to easily track their payments on their monthly card statements. Visa has said that its research with utilities and other firms that accept payment cards indicates that payments made with payment cards are authorized 72% faster than payments made with checks. Delinquency rates on accounts paid with payment cards are over 20% less than accounts paid by check, the brand said, and 5% fewer payments require exception processing. Utilities also report up to 25% fewer customer service calls are reported per customer According to Visa’s research, approximately one-third of customers indicate they would sign up for automatic bill payment if given the option due to the convenience, ability to ensure on-time payments, security of card payments and rewards.

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