SAN FRANCISCO — Providian Financial Corp. said Thursday it is firing 800 workers in California and Kentucky and warned even more layoffs loom as the hobbled credit card issuer struggles to recover from mounting loan losses.
The firings, affecting 6 percent of Providian’s work force, follow 550 job cuts made after the San Francisco-based company decided in November to close a Nevada office.
The latest cutbacks will affect Providian employees in four California cities — San Francisco, Oakland, Pleasanton and Sacramento — as well as Louisville, Ky., said spokesman Alan Elias. Providian planned to deliver most of the pink slips Thursday and Friday, Elias said.
Providian plans to book a first-quarter charge of between $10 million and $15 million to pay for the firings.
With the company’s growth restricted by federal bank regulators, Providian warned further layoffs are possible later this year. Other employees might be offered new jobs at other companies if Providian succeeds in its effort to sell its international business, as well as other pieces of its $32 billion loan portfolio.
The mass layoffs reverse years of expansion that swelled Providian’s payroll from 3,000 employees at the start of 1997 to more than 13,000 workers in 2001. Along the way, Providian grew from the nation’s 13th largest issuer of Visa credit cards and Mastercards to the fifth biggest.
“I deeply regret the need for these reductions,” Providian CEO Joseph Saunders said in a note to employees. “I very much hope that we can go through this process with as much fairness and grace as our circumstance permits.”
Providian’s purge stems from the company’s deepening loan problems.
Powered by a sophisticated computer program that emboldened the company to issue credit cards to high-risk borrowers that scared off other lenders, Providian emerged as one of the financial services industry’s biggest success stories of the 1990s.
But the company’s run of prosperity ended abruptly during the last half of 2001, as more of its 18.5 million accountholders stopped making payments on their balances, saddling the company with crippling problems. As of Nov. 30, Providian’s loan losses stood at 12.8 percent of its managed loan portfolio, up from 7.7 percent at the start of 2001.
Providian is trying to offset the damage by pruning expenses. The company estimates the job cuts made so far will save the company about $60 million annually.
The streamlining hasn’t done much for Providian’s ravaged stock, which plunged by 94 percent in 2001, wiping out $15 billion in shareholder wealth.
Providian’s shares fell 11 cents to close at $3.44 Thursday on the New York Stock Exchange.
Investors are largely unimpressed with Providian’s recovery efforts so far because the company hasn’t adopted a new system for identifying potential customers or disposed of the troubled loans that sank the company in the first place, said industry analyst Jennifer Scutti of CIBC World Markets.
“Cutting jobs and closing offices doesn’t really fix the problem,” Scutti said. “They need to sell portions of their portfolio, but they may have too many skeletons in the closet to pull it off.”
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