American Express Co. and Credit Lyonnais are reportedly close to a credit card comarketing deal, but neither company would confirm it was in the works.
According to last Friday's Wall Street Journal, Credit Lyonnais will become an issuer of American Express corporate cards. It would be the first bank in France to issue a card without the MasterCard or Visa brand-and a setback particularly for Visa's campaign to prevent what it views as consorting with the enemy.
Neither the Paris bank nor New York-based American Express would comment officially, but observers said a joint card product would not be a surprise, given recent American Express moves in France.
Last year American Express established partnerships with three French companies to take advantage of the fact that French banks are not permitted to issue cobranded cards.
"American Express has announced its intentions quite clearly," said one European card executive. "Credit Lyonnais has been going through a rethinking of its strategy and how they operate, and therefore it certainly would not be a complete surprise."
He added that the bank has a relationship with American Express, selling its travelers checks.
American Express has been aggressively courting banks overseas and in the United States, but what it can do in each market varies. In Europe, MasterCard and Visa have no rules against bank partnerships with American Express.
In December, National Westminster Bank of London agreed to issue a cobranded American Express-United Airlines card in the United Kingdom. The bank also has the right to issue a corporate card for the airline in the United States, but has not done so.
In France, the association of all card-issuing banks, Carte Bancaire, rules out such cooperation with competitors. Most commercial banks in France issue Visa-branded debit cards tied to deposit accounts.
One banker suggested an American Express-Credit Lyonnais alliance would cause the French bank card association to rethink its position.
Already, French banks have been stung by the comarketing prohibition. Peugeot and Citroen are marketing cards that bear the American Express logo. It also issues a cobranded card with the French hotel group Accor.