Argentina's Tarjeta Naranja Brings Humanity to Credit Cards

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Other credit-card companies could learn from the lavish care paid to customer service by Argentina's popular local credit card Tarjeta Naranja (Spanish for "orange card").

Starting this month, the company will send dissatisfied customers a flower pot that spells out the word "Perdon." As the preplanted grass seed grows, the apology gradually disappears, presumably replaced by the customer's forgiveness.

Tarjeta Naranja was started somewhat by accident 25 years ago by two gym teachers who opened a sporting-goods store in Cordoba, Argentina's second city. They developed a payment card for their own customers, and nearby stores started accepting it, too. The two founders soon realized credit cards were a better business than sporting goods, and Tarjeta Naranja expanded through the country, targeting lower-income customers who didn't have other credit cards and spreading the company's "orange culture" of treating everyone as a friend.

"Anyone who can prove to have an income is a potential customer," said Juan Pablo Mon, Tarjeta Naranja's marketing manager.

Now that Tarjeta Naranja has 2 million active cardholders and 40% of the credit-card market outside Buenos Aires, the company is going national and entering the capital city that is Argentina's biggest market. Last year Tarjeta Naranja hired BBDO, Argentina, and after studying the company's culture and spirit, the agency came up with the campaign "Financially Incorrect." The premise is that Tarjeta Naranja does business in a different way, putting human relationships first.

"A proposition like that, from a financial-services company ... is financially incorrect," said Carlos Perez, president of BBDO, Argentina.

Tarjeta Naranja is consistently voted one of the best places to work in Argentina and set a record for most married couples working in a single company that was recognized by the Guinness Book of Records in 2004.

The company spends between $13 million and $18 million a year on advertising. Tarjeta Naranja has also started to sponsor Argentina's national soccer team and launched a corporate-social-responsibility effort called "A Goal, a Field." The company pledged to create a neighborhood soccer field in a needy community each time Argentina scores a goal in the Copa America soccer tournament and the next World Cup's qualifying rounds and games.

Tarjeta Naranja was the first credit card in Argentina to offer mobile services and shopping, and boasts 280,000 Facebook fans. Employees chat with their clients on Twitter.

"Social networks are definitely one of the company's biggest efforts," Mr. Perez said. "TN's objective is to lead the interaction with clients on Facebook and Twitter by 2013."

Thanks to a partnership with now-majority shareholder Banco Galicia dating back to 1995, Tarjeta Naranja's credit cards can be used by travelers outside Argentina. The relationship has also let the company expand its business by issuing bright-orange Tarjeta Naranja cards co-branded with Visa, MasterCard and American Express. They account for 43% of the company's cards.

The company has been averaging annual revenue growth between 15% and 20%, and reported a 30% increase in first-quarter revenue over the same period last year.

Now that it has gone national in Argentina, Tarjeta Naranja has international ambitions, entering Peru last year and making plans to seek other markets in South America.

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