To encourage cross-sales and improve customers' spending, PNC Financial Services Group has spent the past two years making its credit cards look like a seamless element of its Virtual Wallet account instead of a late addition.

PNC's online-focused Virtual Wallet account was originally a combination of three checking and savings accounts when it launched in 2008. PNC added credit in 2010, giving Virtual Wallet customers the ability to apply for a PNC card within online banking and then manage the card alongside their other PNC accounts (see story).

For consumers, "it just makes sense to allow you to add a PNC credit card to your Virtual Wallet so you get a clear idea of your" spending, says Mike Ley, PNC vice president of e-business and payments.

With the 2009 addition of a Student variant of the Virtual Wallet account and the 2011 addition of a Performance version that urges customers to keep a higher balance, PNC now has the ability to offer new products as its customers' needs become more complex.

"You can start out as a student once you graduate, you can move to Virtual Wallet, and then as you get more assets move to Virtual Wallet Performance … [and later] add a credit card," Ley says. "It will grow with you, and that's what gets us excited about it."

More than 1 million customers use a Virtual Wallet account, PNC announced June 12.

"I can remember the day we first turned Virtual Wallet on, when we had zero customers, and we didn't know what we were creating or how popular it would be," Ley says.

For existing card users, the Virtual Wallet interface makes the PNC card more prominent than any rival bank's card.

All of a customer's transactions show up in a calendar view at the Virtual Wallet website. Customers can click on a day or a week to get more detail about how their money moved each day. PNC displays credit card transactions in a different color. The due date for the card account, as well as whether it was paid, also show up on the calendar.

There are some remaining issues with the credit card integration. These stem from fact that PNC's cards were designed separately. For example, PNC's Everyday Rewards card cannot be enrolled in paperless billing, which until recently forced PNC customers to log into a separate site to view full statements.

PNC has since merged credit card access with its online checking accounts, allowing its customers to manage their accounts and pay their bills more easily.

When expanding an account such as Virtual Wallet to include new products, credit cards are "the low-hanging fruit," says Jacob Jegher, a senior analyst at Celent.

"Why would you go through your debit stuff and not your credit?" he says. "It's also an item that's frequently cross-sold by financial institutions."

For consumers, credit cards are a welcome addition, says Mark Schwanhausser, a senior analyst for Javelin Strategy and Research of Pleasanton, Calif.

"If you've got most or some of your spending going through a checking account … but you're putting some of your spending on your credit card, then you don't really know" where all of your money is going, he says.

"The more control a consumer can have over all of the money that matters, the better," Schwanhausser says.

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