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By DAVID MORRISON CU TIMES Staff Reporter BALTIMORE — Although credit unions still lag other issuers in the adoption of platinum and other premium card products, there are indications in the card world overall that platinum card usage may not be growing from year to year. A survey of 2,000 adult cardholders conducted by Vertis Communications, an advertising, marketing and research firm, has found that the use of platinum, gold and other premium cards was flat in 2006 when compared to 2003 and that debit cards and credit cards with rewards programs attached have been the big winners. The Vertis Customer Focus in 2003 found that 50% of cardholders surveyed said they “typically” use a platinum, gold or other premium card, but the same survey taken in 2006 found the same number, 50%, using those cards “typically.” There was a slight difference in the time the surveys were taken, with the 2003 survey being taken in the spring of 2003 and the most recent in the fall of 2006, but for these questions the difference in date was not considered overly important, the firm said. Debit card usage, with both personal identification numbers and signatures, rose in 2006 over 2003 (55% in 2006 vs. 48% in 2003) as did the number of people who said they “typically” used a card with a rewards program attached (25% in 2003 vs. 48% in 2006). Other winners in the card survey were cards which offered cardholders a “cash back” option (moving from 18% in 2003 to 30% in 2006) and cards that are affiliated with a meaningful association with the cardholder, such as a school or church (4% in 2003 compared to 7% in 2006. Scott Marden, director of market research for Vertis, hesitated to interpret the data, but noted that since rewards programs were often a key part of premium card programs, it may have been that some of the premium card usage was caught up in the rewards program statistics. It’s hard to know how many people relate to their cards in the way that the card issuers do, Marden noted. Some people might reach for a card that they consider a rewards card without noting that it’s a platinum or gold card. A drop in the appeal of platinum could act to dampen the improved card performance many credit unions have seen as they have caught up with the rest of the industry by offering premium card products. Data has shown that premium card products, on average, carry higher averages and generate more interchange than do other card products. In addition, the survey may have reflected the challenge credit unions face in marketing balance transfer programs to their cardholders. According to the survey, balance transfer offers were the least read types of credit card direct mail. –[email protected]

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