American Banknote Corp. is stepping up its merchant business, offering new card products and services to retailers.

The 200-year-old company, historically known as a major printer of currency for foreign governments, has a small merchant-services and transaction processing division and is adding employees.

Among them is Brent H. Bowen, a former executive at Schlumberger Smart Cards and Terminals, who was named president of ABN Card Services. Mr. Bowen, who joined the company March 30, said he is exploring ways to use point of sale terminals "for more than delivering credit and debit."

ABN Card Services accounts for only about 3% of American Banknote's total sales, or less than $4 million. But the division aims to make a name for itself in "value added" applications such as gift cards, loyalty cards, and phone card activation, Mr. Bowen said.

Small and midsize merchants-the bread and butter of ABN Card Services' portfolio-are eager for these services, Mr. Bowen said. Last month, his company introduced a plastic gift certificate based on magnetic stripe card technology, which about 20 retailers have adopted so far.

Developing chip-based products is another option Mr. Bowen said he is considering. ABN Card Services is reviewing terminal vendors and might choose one that has chip card technology built into its terminals. Verifone Inc., the Hewlett-Packard Co. subsidiary, is its main supplier.

Mr. Bowen said ABN's aim is to "solve problems" for merchants. "If you can bring smart card technology to the merchants in an affordable way, then they'll adopt that technology," he said.

Most merchants do not have a preference about which technology is used, Mr. Bowen said. Chip technology can be less expensive for smaller retailers that "don't have mainframe systems to do back-end processing," he said.

Before joining American Banknote, Mr. Bowen, 34, spent six years with Schlumberger in Moorestown, N.J., where he was national sales manager in the point of sale division. Before that, he spent four years as a business analyst for security and personal identification number at Tandem Computers' Atalla division.

A graduate of Indiana University, Mr. Bowen also spent four years as a manager at Midwest Payment Systems, the transaction processing arm of Fifth Third Bancorp, Cincinnati.

At American Banknote, he succeeds Paul Amatucci, who held the card services job two years. Mr. Amatucci left to pursue personal interests, the company said.

"We brought in Brent to further expand the company into merchant services and transaction processing," said Morris Weissman, chairman and chief executive officer of American Banknote in New York.

"His wealth of experience and successes in the field of smart cards and systems will allow him to drive ABN Card Services toward its goal of becoming a premier provider of merchant payment solutions."

Mr. Weissman said he hopes to roll out the gift card and loyalty programs developed in the United States to American Banknote subsidiaries in other parts of the world.

American Banknote has extensive smart card and credit card operations overseas. Its Brazilian and Australian subsidiaries have agreements with the French chip card giant Gemplus to manufacture and personalize smart cards and develop software.

Last year, American Banknote acquired two French companies in the card and check production market, and last month it bought Transtex, the leading supplier of transaction cards in Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay.

A company that American Banknote created and spun off, American Banknote Holographics Inc., is under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission for its financial reporting. This and other problems have delayed some loan repayments by other American Banknote units.

Mr. Bowen said the card services division has not been affected by its affiliates' difficulties.

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