Chase began its card transition in the beginning of 2008 -- when the financial crisis was still in its early stages and card losses were yet to be realized by most financial companies. Some seven months earlier it had hired Smith to head up the unit from AmEx, where he spent 25 years. And while the company admits that the environment is very different from when it first started the card business transition, it still expects to reap benefits.

Management wants consumers to feel as if the Chase experience, from retail banking to debit cards to credit cards is seamless, Smith says.

The Chase Card unit also has another arrow in its quiver these days -- Chase Paymentech, its merchant processing subsidiary, says Brian Riley, research director of bank cards at TowerGroup, a Needham, Mass.-based research and advisory services firm focused on the financial services industry.

Last year, Chase Paymentech, which is headquartered in Dallas, dissolved its joint venture with First Data following that company's buyout by private equity firm Kohlberg Kravis & Roberts.

" The move gave them a really solid merchant processing business," Riley says. "Some banks like Capital One and Citigroup focus on consumer cardholders and miss opportunities on the merchant side. And many of the controls you have in place with cards can be carried over to merchant side. By taking it in-house it gave some additional ballast to their card business."

"The company is still very interested in the card business and in fact is going to be increasing their marketing budget in that space in 2010," says Eric Schopf of Hardesty Capital Management, which owns JPMorgan shares. "I like what they're doing. It's in these sorts of environments that if you're aggressive and creative you can beat their competitors."

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