American Express travelers check group has signed an agreement to acquire Special Teams Inc., a company that designs payment systems based on stored-value cards.

The acquisition, announced Monday, signals American Express Co.'s intention to expand into electronic stored-value businesses.

"Using Special Teams' expertise in technology, American Express can help institutions and individuals take advantage of increasingly sophisticated stored-value payment methods," said Carl Lehmann, president of the travelers check group.

"We also see opportunities to enhance joint consumer relations with key partners in financial services, travel, entertainment, and other businesses."

Mr. Lehmann declined to offer specifics about any future partnering ventures.

Under the terms of the agreement, Special Teams will become a wholly owned subsidiary of American Express Travel Related Services Co., and will be called American Express Special Teams Inc.

Don Endres, the 34-year-old entrepreneur who founded Special Teams in 1985, will continue on as president, and the unit will remain in Brookings, S.D.

"Special Teams is very good at what they do," said an American Express spokesman. "Basically, as far as they're concerned, it will be business as usual."

Terms of the purchase were not disclosed. The acquisition is expected to be completed within a few weeks.

With this acquisition, American Express is taking on Canton, Ohio-based Diebold Inc. and its Integrated Campus Access Management system.

Both the Special Teams and the Diebold systems allow students to use a stored-value card to pay for books, supplies, and food from campus shops, as well as substitute for coins or tokens in vending, laundry, or copy machines. The cards, which also serve as identification cards on many campuses, can be used to regulate access to buildings on campus.

Special Teams' current customer base of more than 175 includes universities, hospitals, and Fortune 500 companies with campus-like settings.

Diebold also markets its product to all three customer categories.

Both companies stated their intention to continue to pursue a variety of potential clients. The systems could potentially be used by government entities and mass transit systems, or for special events.

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