American Express Co. has tapped John C. Elliott, a veteran credit card and merchant processing executive, to lead its card acceptance efforts abroad.

Mr. Elliott, 52, was most recently an adviser to First Data Corp. He joined that transaction processing colossus through its acquisition last year of Card Establishment Services, where Mr. Elliott had been chairman and chief executive.

Under a contract with First Data that expired Feb. 29, Mr. Elliott played a role in the post-merger integration of First Financial Management Corp., which owned Card Establishment Services' biggest rival in payment services to retail merchants.

As executive vice president and general manager of American Express' establishment services division, Mr. Elliott is responsible for increasing the number of merchants in foreign countries that accept American Express cards.

Merchant acceptance is American Express' biggest challenge abroad, say industry observers.

Mr. Elliott, who is based in London, reports to Thomas O. Ryder, international president for American Express Travel Related Services Co. Mr. Ryder was promoted to that job last October after three years running the merchant acceptance program worldwide.

Mr. Elliott, who is filling a newly created post, is Mr. Ryder's first major hire, said Elisabeth Coleman, an American Express spokeswoman.

Neither executive was available to be interviewed for this article.

Mr. Elliott has also worked at Citicorp, where he was a senior vice president in travelers check operations, and at MasterCard International, where he was the chief systems officer and a champion of smart cards.

At First Data, Mr. Elliott had been more consultant than line manager. Thomas Staudt, who was president and chief operating officer under Mr. Elliott at Card Establishment Services, said line responsibilities are more to his liking.

"I would imagine he took the (American Express) job because he wanted to get back to having day-to-day responsibility," said Mr. Staudt, who is now president of MedE America, a health care card processing firm in Uniondale, N.Y., that was formerly part of CES.

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