THE Visa 'Family Card' is the latest gimmick being offered to Hong Kong's credit card customers, as banks try out imaginative marketing ideas for their financial products and services. Asia's first Family Card carries the cardholder's family name in Chinese calligraphy. It was launched on February 7 by the International Bank of Asia (IBA). Mike Murad, IBA vice-chairman and chief executive officer, said Family Card holders would receive greater recognition when they used the card. 'Staff in shops and restaurants will take much greater notice of the card, due to its very personalised design and will usually refer to the customer by name when paying,' he said. Only 23 family names have been selected to be eligible for the cards but IBA said this covered more than 70 per cent of the Hong Kong population. The Family Card, already a great success in the United States, is IBA's seventh Visa 'affinity card' scheme in Hong Kong. Affinity cards are normal credit cards with added incentives that are targeted at specific groups. Bashar Samra, head of IBA's credit card division, said these showed a higher growth rate in Hong Kong than standard cards. 'The affinity card market is still relatively small, but growing fast, and IBA is committed to stimulating growth,' Mr Samra said. IBA was named Visa's best affinity card issuer last year. 'I think the success of affinity cards lies in the personal attention that banks can give to a group's requirements,' Mr Samra said. 'Standard cards cater to general needs but, with these new cards, we can really answer the demands of a particular organisation or social group. 'In the case of the Family Card, we are appealing to the deep cultural heritage of Chinese family names, which are highly esteemed by ethnic Chinese,' Mr Samra said. Affinity card customers are offered other incentives, including free gifts, lucky draw entries and frequent-flier discounts. Since IBA began launching affinity cards in 1989, Mr Samra has found they required different marketing to standard credit cards. First, the account acquisition costs of affinity cards tend to be lower, which means it is easier and cheaper to encourage customers to carry them initially. Marketing campaigns through affinity groups are experiencing response rates that are typically two to three times higher than those for standard campaigns. Second, affinity cards are more likely to be used than standard cards, although average outstanding balances are lower for affinity cards. Third, issuing costs of affinity cards tend to be higher, especially for customised designs with complicated, four-colour graphics. Finally, affinity card users tend to be more reliable when it comes to paying their accounts.