- The Washington Times - Friday, December 10, 2004

MBNA Corp. of Delaware plans to discontinue sending unrequested American Express cards to its Visa and MasterCard customers after some complained accounts were switched without their consent.

MBNA, the nation’s third-largest credit-card issuer, started sending American Express cards to its customers last month after striking up a business partnership with the rival of Visa and MasterCard.

MBNA says Visa and MasterCard customers could “opt out” by notifying the company they do not want the American Express cards when they receive them.

“Everyone whose account was upgraded received prior notice,” said Jim Donahue, MBNA spokesman. “We know that people saw and read the notice because we heard from many who activated the new card and from some who chose not to accept the offer.”

He said the complaints represent a misunderstanding by customers who did not know they had the option of rejecting the American Express cards.

American Express is accepted by only 3.5 million merchants compared with 5.2 million for Visa and MasterCard, according to the Nilson Report, a consumer payment research organization.

Visa controlled 42 percent of the $678 billion U.S. credit-card market in the first half of this year, the Nilson Report said. MasterCard accounted for 30 percent, American Express 21 percent and the Discover Card 5 percent.

MBNA acknowledges it has received complaints from customers who were sent American Express cards without requesting them.

“Some customers did react negatively, so we’re going to discontinue opt-out upgrades in connection with the American Express launch,” Mr. Donahue said.

No complaints have been registered with the District, Virginia or Maryland attorney generals’ offices about MBNA’s credit-card switches.

Mr. Donahue calls the American Express cards “upgrades” because customers have the option of an additional credit card along with redeemable points for services from airlines, hotels and restaurants when they use the cards.

In one case, the California Alumni Association notified MBNA that it wanted the company to stop sending unsolicited American Express cards to its members.

“This is definitely a problem,” said Mark Appel, chief operating officer of the California Alumni Association in Berkeley, Calif. “We have never experienced anything like this with MBNA. We asked them to stop doing it.”

MBNA claims it received authorization to issue American Express cards to its customers under a U.S. Supreme Court decision in October.

The court declined to overturn lower court rulings that said Visa and MasterCard networks must give their member banks the option to affiliate with competitors like American Express.

MBNA announced last month it had issued more than 300,000 American Express cards to customers.

Greg McBride, senior financial analyst for Bankrate.com, a consumer finance Web site, said there is nothing illegal about credit-card companies switching their customers’ accounts if they give adequate notice, which normally means 15 days.

“They give you notice but they’re not going to come up and tap you on the shoulder and say, ‘Is it OK,’” Mr. McBride said.

American Express officials said MBNA customers who receive the credit cards will get a good deal.

“We think the cards MBNA has designed have great reward features,” said Nina Chang, American Express spokeswoman.

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