With its deal to issue American Express cards to Bank of Hawaii customers, American Express Co. may have found a new way to circumvent Visa and MasterCard rules that it says hinder it from making deals with banks.

American Express has spent three years trying to coax U.S. banks to issue its card brand, with no success. It says the main barriers are policies maintained by the card associations that forbid Visa and MasterCard issuers from issuing any other brands. Those policies are the centerpiece of a Justice Department antitrust case against Visa U.S.A. and MasterCard International that is awaiting resolution in federal district court in New York. American Express contends that banks will not work with it because they fear getting kicked out of Visa and MasterCard. On the other hand, American Express' deal with Bank of Hawaii - plus a deal earlier this year to buy the ShopRite MasterCard portfolio from Valley National Bank - may show that Amex can do business with U.S. banks regardless of the card associations' existing rules.

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