Banc One Corp. is taking a well-worn path to international card issuing: through English-speaking countries.

The Columbus, Ohio, banking company's First USA unit, through the Bank One International division, is planning to be in business in both Canada and the United Kingdom by yearend.

"Over the long term, international markets present significant growth opportunities for credit card lending," said John B. McCoy, chairman and chief executive officer of Banc One Corp.

It is following U.S. peers Citicorp, MBNA Corp., and Capital One Financial Corp. in search of overseas growth.

Banc One was drawn to Canada and Britain because of the common language, similarities with the U.S. legal system, and availability of credit bureau data. For now it has no plans to enter other countries.

Canada and the United Kingdom "are much more sophisticated" credit card markets "than a lot of the countries in Central Europe," said Patrick M. Blewett, president of Bank One International in Wilmington, Del.

"The population is familiar with credit cards and the utility they offer," he said. "We don't have to do a lot of educating."

Mr. Blewett joined Banc One in March when Bank One International was formed, after two years in England as president and chief executive officer of MBNA International Bank, MBNA Corp.'s U.K. operation.

In the United Kingdom for four years, MBNA has signed more than 600 affinity partners. It also has 70 in Canada.

With its focus on customer service and without local branch networks, MBNA has typified a competitive threat of mounting concern to banks in those countries. The new breed of competition was a factor in Barclays Bank's recent announcement that it would reduce employment in its 4,400- employee Barclaycard operation by 25% over three years.

Bank One International plans to market both Visa and MasterCard credit cards in the United Kingdom under its own brand and with affinity and cobranded partners. In Canada it will offer only Visa.

"These markets are about 10 years behind the U.S. in terms of credit card acceptance," said Joseph Duwan, an analyst at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc. in New York. "For specialized players this is fertile ground."

The company is hiring about 200 people to serve the two countries. It will rely on operations centers in Cardiff, Wales, and Ottawa, Canada, and business development offices in London and Toronto.

Mr. Blewett said there will be 1,000 employees in Cardiff within five years. The offices in Canada are expected to house more than 600 by December 2003.

The cards will be issued through First Chicago NBD Corp. branches in London and Canada. First Chicago plans to merge with Banc One in October.

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