A Brazilian bank has become the first in the world to agree to issue a credit card with the American Express brand name.
Banco de Credito Nacional, Brazil's sixth-largest bank, will begin issuing personal and gold versions of the card in mid-September and will control its features and benefits.
"We call it a network card," said Robert V. Sicina, American Express regional president for Latin America and the Caribbean. "It is opening up our network to the banking system."
The bank-issued cards "will be accepted and processed through our merchant network," Mr. Sicina said. "In that sense, it is the first deal of its kind in the world," he said.
Similar deals will follow, he added.
It is at least a symbolic step forward for American Express' strategy of working more closely with banks. The New York-based company successfully opposed Visa's effort to prevent its European members from issuing cards with nonbank brands such as American Express, and it is hoping to change a prohibition of such relationships in Visa U.S.A. bylaws.
Visa's Latin America and Caribbean Region president, James F. Partridge, suggested that American Express won't have much luck in preventing his region from adopting a bylaw similar to the Visa U.S.A. provision.
"Our board members decided to review the matter and make a decision in October, which will be retroactive," Mr. Partridge said Wednesday. Any bank that considers issuing American Express-branded cards or others, he said, "is playing with fire, because the board in all likelihood is going to consider the prohibition."
Banco de Credito is not a Visa member. Mr. Sicina said American Express chose Banco de Credito because they have a relationship dating 15 years to their joint marketing of a card called Sollo.
Brazil has developed into the largest card market in Latin America, with $17.5 billion in volume in 1995, according to The Nilson Report, Oxnard, Calif. "The Brazilian economy has stabilized in the last 18 months," said David Robertson, president of the industry newsletter. "Everyone has always known that the country was a sleeping giant in terms of potential."
Nilson reports that Visa has the largest share of the market in volume at 45.6%, having bumped MasterCard out of first place last year. The New York based association has a 44% share, American Express, 7.1%, and Diners Club, 3.3%.
In the past 18 months, the card giant has entered other agreements with banks to issue American Express cards. Those banks include Bank Hapoalim in Israel, Banco Comercial Portugues in Portugal, Alpha Credit Bank in Greece, Akbank in Turkey, Tong Yang Card Corp. in South Korea, and Banco Consolidado in Venezuela.