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New Credit Cards to Exploit Women's Market

There are all kinds of consumer products geared at women: cosmetics, mobile phones, even alcoholic beverages. Now a new women's credit card is set to take demographic specific marketing to a whole new level.

Banking products aimed at women are providing new opportunities for both consumers and financial institutions. [baidu]

Chu Nan, a 26 year-old Siemens employee, was particularly excited about the four different credit cards on offer from CITIC Magic at the Beijing Financial Expo earlier this month.

"They are so cool," she gushes.

Fashionable and upwardly mobile, Chu has a busy life. She regularly goes to the gym, hair salons and shopping malls. On weekends, she hangs out with friends at coffee shops, teahouses and restaurants, and she also likes to spend time outdoors.

"I can't believe that I can get discounts in over 3000 shops across the country with these," she says as she looks at the CITIC Magic credit cards for women.

"I can even use these at the hospital or to pay for English lessons."

A report by Horizon Research says that young and middle-aged career women tend to overdraw on their credit limits more often than men, but they also generally have better credit ratings because they pay their bills on time.

Even more important to banks, female consumers love to shop.

"Women typically take care of the money in most Chinese families, and they also usually spend the most," says Albert Shiung, vice-president of Visa International (Asia Pacific).

Women-specific credit cards are big business.

"Our Magic Card won't appeal to all women, of course," says Chen Jing, executive vice-president of the credit card centre at CITIC Industrial Bank. "We offer customized services to our target customers, who are mainly affluent young career women."

Companies risk losing customers if they try to appeal to all consumers. It is better to focus on a specific demographic, Chen says.

CITIC is not the first domestic lender to exploit the women's market. Huaxia Bank issued its first debit card designed for women as early as 2000. Guangdong Development Bank (GDB) also launched the first customized credit cards for women in 2003.

"Credit cards for women are all about carving up the banking market and specifically targeting different groups with different services," says Lu Shifeng, general manager of GDB's card division.

A survey conducted by GDB suggests that 65 percent of local women earning more than 2,500 yuan (US$308) a month are interested in applying for credit cards.

These special cards are designed not only to win over current credit users, but more importantly, to attract potential consumers, says Lu. The country's credit market is still in its infancy.

Other lenders, such as China Minsheng Banking Corp, Everbright Bank and China Merchants Bank, have also released similar products.

The big four banks have also seen what joint-stock banks have been doing in the women's market, and they want a piece of the action.

"We also plan to launch a debit/credit card designed for women later this year," says Wang Lei, a bankcard department manager at the Agricultural Bank of China.

The huge debit card market also has yet to be fully exploited.

"We first launched our Beauty Card in Wenzhou (east China's Zhejiang Province) back in 2000, as a pilot programme to get into the women's bankcard business," says Song Xiaobo, manager of Huaxia Bank's debit card division.

Song adds that when Huaxia divided the market, it noticed that the consumption habits of men and women were quite different. Women spend more and shop in different stores than men.

"That is why we began to think about developing a bank card especially for women to meet their specific needs."

The pilot project was a success. Approximately 40,000 women in Wenzhou were using the Beauty Card within five months. "There was a lot of interest and enthusiasm," Song says.

The success of the pilot programme led to the nationwide launch of the card in 2002. Huaxia Bank has now issued 278,000 Beauty Cards. The annual increase rate is pegged at 15 percent.

"That's 2 percent higher than other bank cards," says Song.

Individual user deposits for the Beauty Card topped 6,500 yuan (US$802), considerably higher than the industry average of 1,300 yuan (US$160).

Profits from Beauty Cards have been far greater than Huaxia's other products, but Song says that the intangibles are the most important thing.

"It was the first women's debit card in China, so it did wonders for our brand recognition. Word of mouth has also helped our other products, such as personal loans."

Beauty Card holders enjoy discounts in over 2000 shops nationwide, and Huaxia Bank is considering launching a Beauty Credit Card soon.

"Credit cards and debit cards target different consumers. Bankcards are generally safer."

Most banks focus on offering more discounts to consumers and improving service, but Shiung believes that constant communication with customers is the most important thing.

"You should know who your target customers are and what they really want. Without critical input, a card will be less likely to catch on, regardless of how well it is designed," Shiung says.

"Society changes quickly, and so do individual needs. Banks need to talk with customers frequently and adjust products accordingly."

(China Daily September 19, 2005)

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