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Fidelity Links Up With American Express


Two firms known for their marketing, American Express and Fidelity Investments, are about to begin a campaign promoting one another's services.

Fidelity will offer customers of its brokerage service free or reduced-charge American Express credit cards, a service Fidelity plans to advertise extensively in the coming weeks.

The arrangement will enable American Express to automatically debit bill payments from brokerage customer accounts each month and gives the company access to the owners of 1.8 million Fidelity brokerage accounts who currently do not have American Express cards. American Express also plans to market the venture.

"We're going to make as much hay out of this as we can," said Stephen Cone, president of Fidelity Customer Marketing and Development.

Cone and Alfred F. Kelly, Jr., president of the consumer card services group at American Express, announced the venture at a news conference last week. They did not disclose terms of the deal.

Although discount brokers are competing based on cost, added services will help attract customers, according to Putnam, Lovell, de Guardiola & Thornton, the San Francisco investment banking firm, in a report in March.

The Fidelity-American Express arrangement helps Fidelity distinguish its brokerage services from its competitors, said Andrew Guillette, an analyst at Cerulli Associates, a mutual fund consulting firm in Boston.

Fidelity's discount brokerage business is second in size only to Charles Schwab & Co. of San Francisco. Fidelity, which is in the midst of an advertising campaign to promote the brokerage business, is adding new accounts at a rate of 20,000 each week, Cone said.

Customers who have a minimum cash balance of $30,000 in their brokerage accounts will be eligible for a free American Express Fidelity Gold Card, beginning in June. Consumers normally pay a $75 annual fee for the card. Cone said a "significant portion" of Fidelity brokerage customers meet the $30,000 minimum. He did not disclose how many customers or the percentage of customers that qualified.

In addition to the gold card, Fidelity and American Express plan in July to begin offering a Platinum Card with a $75 reduction from the standard $300 annual fee. Fidelity will continue to offer a Visa debit card as part of its brokerage account services, Cone said. American Express has arrangements to offer cards through Lehman Brothers Holdings and CIBC Oppenheimer & Co., Kelly said. He expected those joint efforts to be smaller in scope than the Fidelity venture.

"We expect this to be very large," Kelly said. "We expect this to open up a whole new distribution channel for us that will bring in many new customers."