Bank of America Introduces Credit Card for Wealthy Clients

Bank of America Corp. (BAC) on Monday introduced a credit card designed for many of its wealthiest clients, in a bid to retain and win new business as banks ratchet up their pursuit of affluent customers.

The Bank of America American Express Accolades card is intended for customers who keep between $100,000 and $3 million of deposits and investments at the second-largest U.S. bank.

Holders may redeem points for such things as luxury vacations, cooking lessons with top chefs, and access to airport lounges, and may use "concierges" to track down hard-to-get concert tickets or dinner reservations. Customers may also redeem 250,000 points each year for a $2,500 charitable donation that the bank would match.

"We're striving to reward clients who make use of the full range of capabilities we offer," said John Bahnken, president of Bank of America's global wealth and investment management products group, in an interview. "This card is a relationship product, to strengthen and deepen (client) relationships."

Many banks, including Citigroup Inc. (C), JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Wachovia Corp. (WB), are pushing to attract and retain affluent customers who may need many financial services. Last week, Wachovia announced plans to add about 300 private bankers over three years to the 240 it has now.

The Accolades card may help Bank of America retain customers of Charles Schwab Corp.'s (SCHW) U.S. Trust unit, following its planned $3.3 billion purchase of the unit early in the third quarter. Bank of America became the largest U.S. card issuer when it acquired MBNA Corp. last year.

Charlotte, North Carolina-based Bank of America said it developed and tested the new card for a year. It estimates it does business with half of the 26 million U.S. households with investable assets in the targeted range.

The Accolades card will carry an initial annual percentage rate of 12.24 percent, equal to 3.99 percentage points more than the prime rate. A 1.9 percent APR applies to balance transfers in the first year.

There is a $295 annual fee, but the bank said it will waive it for holders in its Family Wealth Advisors, Private Bank, or Premier Banking & Investment programs.

Bahnken said the only people likely to incur the fee are customers who leave those programs but want to keep the card.