The acrimony between Dean Witter, Discover & Co. and Visa International has spread to the international arena.
The issuer of the Discover card, which unsuccessfully sued in the United States to gain membership in Visa U.S.A., filed a complaint against the bank card organization last week with the European Commission in Brussels. Discover claims that Visa is considering passing a bylaw that would prevent member banks abroad from issuing non-Visa card brands.
While Dean Witter, Discover & Co. does not market credit cards outside the United States, its complaint implies that it has an interest in doing so.
American Express Co. filed a similar complaint against Visa in January. At that time, the San Francisco-based association said it was "surprised" that American Express would "comment publicly on internal and as yet unresolved matters within Visa."
Responding to Dean Witter's move, Susan Murdy, Visa's vice president of public affairs, said, "Today there is no proposed bylaw."
Ms. Murdy acknowledged that "this issue has been looked at previously" by some of Visa's regional divisions overseas, though nothing has been implemented.
Dean Witter and American Express believe Visa plans to vote on whether to endorse the bylaw at an international board meeting this week in London. American Express said it learned of the proposal from members of Visa's regional boards.
The nonbank card giants have been on the same side before in challenging Visa.
American Express supported Dean Witter in the latter's 1994 antitrust suit over the right to issue Visa cards.
In this latest confrontation with Visa, American Express and Dean Witter have conferred with each other, said spokesmen for both companies.
A Visa bylaw that would prevent banks from issuing competing brands would scuttle American Express' fledgling international strategy of signing banks to issue American Express cards.
So far, six banks have agreed to sell American Express products to their customers, including Banco Commercial Portugues in Portugal, which Mr. O'Neill said recently spoke out publicly against the prospective Visa bylaw.
Dean Witter declined to discuss how it might expand its card reach abroad, but analysts say they believe it also wants to form alliances with bank issuers.
In such alliances, the banks in turn would sign up merchants to accept Dean Witter cards, which include Discover and two newer products marketed under the Novus brand name.
It would be prohibitively expensive, said Guy Moszkowski, a Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. analyst, for Dean Witter to build its own network of merchants to accept Novus and Discover cards.
"They have to be able to use bank partners," said Mr. Moszkowski.
"The bylaw restricts the competitive choices of banks who are Visa International members," Dean Witter said in a statement, "by not allowing those banks to also offer credit card products" on Dean Witter's Novus Network."
Thomas R. Butler, president and chief operating officer of Novus Services Inc., accused Visa of preventing banks from "doing business with us."
For its part, the European Commission has begun an inquiry into the matter by requesting information from Visa.