American Express Chooses Chief For Troubled Optima Card Unit

NEW YORK - Frank L. Skillern Jr. was named on Thursday to head American Express' beleagured Optima credit card program.

Mr. Skillern was appointed president and chairman of American Express Centurion Bank and was also named an executive vice president of the Optima card and consumer lending businesses of American Express Travel Related Services Inc. He currently runs the London office of the company's financial planning unit.

He will replace Anne Busquet, who is taking an unspecified post within Travel Related Services.

Writeoffs a Problem

The move comes in the wake of an $88 million, third-quarter loss at American Express Travel Related Services, the company's once-stellar card unit. The deficit was caused in part by a write-off of $24 million in the unit's domestic credit-card portfolio.

The appointment marks the second major personnel change since the loss was disclosed at the beginning of October. Earlier this week, American Express' president, Harvey Golub, was appointed chairman and chief executive officer of the Travel Related Services unit. He replaced Edwin M. Cooperman, who left to join Primerica Corp.

Both Mr. Golub and Mr. Skillern earned their spurs at IDS Financial Services, the company's solidly profitable financial planning unit. Mr. Skillern joined IDS in 1983, and helped launch its British spinoff, called Acuma, in 1989.

The Optima loss was exacerbated by an admission that some employees violated credit policies by failing to record losses as they occurred. Outside counsel has been hired to investigate the allegations.

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