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The first time credit cards came to Marion
by Nancy Grindle Correspondent · November 2nd, 2017

The First National Bank of Marion, owned by Phil Morris and John Vernon, was the first in the area to offer credit cards.

Many readers have no concept of a time when you paid for everything with cash or a check. And they have no concept of life without credit cards. Close your eyes and think about it for a little while.

What did a kid back then do when Mom sent him or her to the grocery store to buy a pound of butter or a container of coffee? Sometimes Mom sent coins, with the total amount figured out pretty closely. Or maybe, if the family had good credit, the store let the little kid charge the item. Then when each payday came along, Dad would drop by and settle the tab for whatever had been charged. Credit cards were unheard of, and many who knew they existed would not have owned one or used it anyhow.

Credit cards came to Marion in 1968. Among the very first bank credit cards was what was called BankAmericard. The First National Bank of Omaha was a licensee for these cards. (The name would later become VISA.)

First National in Marion signed a contract with First National of Omaha and became an agent bank. Among the first steps to issue cards was to provide the Omaha bank with a list of people who were "credit-worthy." The local bank also had to get local businesses to agree to let people use the cards.

George Humphrey, the Marion bank's loan officers, spent a long time checking through what was called the Credit Bureau Guidebook and creating a list of anyone who had never been over 30 days late on a payment. This list went to Omaha for announcement cards.

The Omaha bank told the local one to approach small retail businesses and service companies, as these were the least likely to have available for their customers. George made a list of those. He and three others went to the selected places to get them to accept the program. They would have Phil's son and one of his friends put up a decal if they got the business to allow the cards.

There were four main selling points for the credit cards:

The 5 percent discount on each sale was better than what the business could get if it handled its own accounts receivable.

Each merchant called Omaha for authorization so they knew they'd be paid.

Every day, the merchant added up the sales, deducted the 5 percent discount, and mailed or carried the receipts to First National and they would get immediate credit on their account.

Sales volume was likely to be higher because anyone from anywhere could make a purchase.

A number of glitches arose. A large number of envelopes had been returned, and George had to go to Omaha and get the four bags full of them. Many cards didn't have directions for where or how they could be used. And follow-up letters did not say "Do Not Forward" as the original envelopes had, so they got delivered despite the fact that many of the cards did not.

Phil said it took six months to get things going smoothly. The Omaha bank finally hired some temps who put all the names on envelopes in alphabetical order in the basement. When an irate person called, they would write down the new address, then run downstairs and change it on the envelope.

One of the incidents that was a deciding factor persuaded one anti-card person to change his tune. Phil remembers the day a call came in from the man. He and his wife had gone to San Francisco and wanted to rent a car. The rental company required a credit card.

The man wanted John (Vernon) to verify that he was a good risk and the rental company could accept his check. John told the company that the man was good enough that the company could sell the car to him by check without fear.

Not only did the man rent the car, but when he returned home, he hurried right to the bank to get a credit card from John.

As Phil and John said in their book, Two Men and Their Bank, BankAmericard changed its name to VISA in 1977, and is accepted worldwide. "Most all transactions are now handled electronically and take about the same time as paying cash."
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