Capital One Financial Corp. had talked to American Express Co. about a partnership in the United States, but the bank card issuer abandoned the idea in light of Visa's and MasterCard's bylaws, which prohibit members from working with other brands, according to testimony Friday in the credit card antitrust case.
James Cracchiolo, president of Travel Related Services International, Amex's international division, testified that his company was forced instead to make a foreign deal with Capital One. The contract was signed in March.
"Because of the bylaws, they felt it was more appropriate we work together in the U.K.," said Mr. Cracchiolo, who appeared as a witness for the U.S. Department of Justice.
Lawyers for MasterCard International, Visa U.S.A., and Visa International all voiced numerous objections to the testimony, saying that American Express' international business had nothing to do with industry practice in the United States.
"What's going on in other countries" is not relevant to the United States, said M. Laurence Popofsky, a Visa attorney.
During their cross-examinations of Mr. Cracchiolo, Mr. Popofsky and MasterCard attorney James Egan sought to shift attention to the U.S. market. They set out to prove, among other things, that American Express wants to use banks to poach the high-end customers from MasterCard and Visa.
Mr. Egan pointed to the corporate cobranded United Airlines card that American Express began issuing in 1997 with Natwest Bank of the United Kingdom. He said that Amex only went after the agreement because Visa and MasterCard were gaining strength in the corporate card market, and because MasterCard and General Electric had already started negotiations with United Airlines. (GE Capital issues cards through MasterCard's network.)
"Amex did want to win this from General Electric," Mr. Cracchiolo said. "They felt if GE was successful, it would take share away from Amex and hurt us long term."
The cobranded United Airlines card is the only product Amex issues with a bank in the United States. United Airlines handles all of the marketing. Natwest issues the credit and sells the credit to Amex one day later, according to American Express documents.
According to Mr. Cracchiolo, Amex was forced to maneuver a complex third-party deal because it already had an exclusive cobranding agreement with Delta Airlines.
"There was concern that Delta would get upset if we started to work with another airline, so we tried to get arms-length with United," said Mr. Cracchiolo.
Mr. Egan said Amex was not interested in pursuing consumer credit products in the United States with Natwest, because Natwest no longer issues cards on MasterCard's network in this country. American Express only wants to go after banks that are large Visa and MasterCard issuers to take share away, Mr. Egan said, and Amex was mainly interested in high-income customers.
Earlier in the testimony, Department of Justice attorney Jeffrey I. Steger had sought to show that American Express works with a variety of banks and issues products for people of diverse income levels.
Overseas, our "bank partners vary in asset size tremendously," Mr. Cracchiolo said, "From a few billion, to tens of billions in assets."
Mr. Cracchiolo said American Express' ability to open its processing network to banks overseas has allowed it to lower its merchant discount rates around the world, thereby increasing its merchant acceptance rate. This, in turn, helps U.S. cardholders who travel overseas, because the card is accepted in more locations, he said.
"As we add more types of cards to our network, we look to get more merchants and then have to negotiate better discount rates," Mr. Cracchiolo said.