Equifax Inc. is putting a new emphasis on international card processing.
The Atlanta credit information company began this effort in 1997, when it decided to market new services in countries where it was selling credit bureau reports and software. It started offering card processing in India in 1997, then took that business to Brazil and the United Kingdom in 1998.
"We moved into markets where we could complement services we already offered," said Lee A. Kennedy, vice president and group executive in charge of card processing.
In the United States, Equifax processes for about 20 million consumer cardholder accounts of independent banks and credit unions.
In April, Equifax signed its first major contract for credit card processing in the United Kingdom, and it sold a nonstrategic business in Brazil.
Mr. Kennedy said this "truly allows us to focus on card processing."
Equifax entered the United Kingdom last year by forming a joint venture- Equifax Card Solutions Ltd.-with Sears Financial Services Ltd., a private- label card processor. The latter is a subsidiary of Sears Group in the United Kingdom and is not related to the Sears, Roebuck and Co. Equifax owns 51% of the processing company; Sears, 49%.
Initially, the partners worked only on the 1.5 million card accounts that Sears services, which include those of the retailers Selfridge's, Wallis, and Adams Childrenswear.
Last month, Ikano Financial Services, an owner and processor of private- label cards, became Equifax Card Solutions' first outside customer. Ikano's 300,000 accounts are from the Ikea furniture store, plus the retailers Habitat and Oasis.
"The intent always was to bring in new customers to the joint venture," Mr. Kennedy said.
Equifax faces stiff competition in the United Kingdom, where First Data Corp., Experian Inc., and Electronic Data Systems Corp. are well entrenched as card processors.
In Brazil, Equifax competes with a local company, Mr. Kennedy said. In India, Equifax's processing subsidiary-Equifax Venture Infotek-dominates the market, he said.
Equifax began processing in Brazil in September 1998, when it bought a 59% stake in Unnisa, a top bank card and private-label processor.
As part of that deal, Equifax also bought a minority interest in a computer services company, Proceda, which was affiliated with Unnisa.
Proceda's niche "is not Equifax's core expertise," Mr. Kennedy said. MCI Worldcom Inc. has bought Equifax's 34% stake in Proceda. Equifax will continue to use Proceda as a vendor.
"The sale of our interest in Proceda is consistent with our long-term strategy of concentrating on providing leading-edge processing and customer support solutions that differentiate our core businesses," Mr. Kennedy said.