Visa U.S.A. president Carl Pascarella prefers not to respond - at least not in kind - to the recent overtures that American Express Co. chairman Harvey Golub made to credit card banks.

"In my way of thinking, Harvey Golub made a speech. That's it. We're continuing on with our business," Mr. Pascarella said in an interview last week.

Two weeks earlier, at a card industry conference in Atlanta, Mr. Golub made a sales pitch to bankers. He invited them to explore marketing alliances with American Express - and he attacked the Visa bylaw that bars them from doing so.

Mr. Pascarella just went about his business. Having declined to attend the Faulkner & Gray Credit Card Forum, where Mr. Golub launched his salvo May 2, Mr. Pascarella was in Louisville the very next day for the Kentucky Derby festivities, part of Visa's Triple Crown sponsorship program.

"We've got a strategy," Mr. Pascarella said. "We're rolling out new products, like Visa Travel Money and the stored-value card. We're getting into the corporate and business and purchasing card in a big way. We're getting into the debit card in a big way and the Visa Interactive programs with home banking - that's a plateful.

"We're advertising more robustly than we ever have," he added. "We've got the Olympics coming in. We're just coming off a great success with the first leg of the Triple Crown, and I've got to think, 'Do I need to worry? I should change my strategy?'

"We're keeping our focus on what our strategy should be."

Despite his professed reluctance to talk about Mr. Golub's remarks, Mr. Pascarella stood up for Visa and the bylaw that prohibits members from issuing American Express or Discover cards.

"The banks have to look at what they've accomplished," he said. "Visa is their brand. They have brought it to the dominant position."

In the same vein, Mr. Pascarella said bankers are responsible for the Visa bylaw. If they want to change it, it's up to them and their board of directors.

U.S. directors of MasterCard International, which does not have a similar bylaw, will be discussing Mr. Golub's proposal at their meeting in late June and might take some action in response. MasterCard got softer treatment from Mr. Golub: He suggested that banks pull out of Visa and remain in MasterCard to take advantage of its freedoms.

But according to Mr. Pascarella, Visa is most concerned about maintaining banks' primary relationships with customers.

"The banks own consumer relationships," he said. "Visa is just one element they have - the acceptance element - that allows the banks to have that consumer relationship.

"I don't think it's in the best interest of the banks, nor do I believe the banks believe it's in their best interest, to give up that primary relationship. It's the bank's relationship. I can't emphasize that enough."

Mr. Pascarella called Mr. Golub's strategy "fallacious," but said Visa is not seeking legal remedies to prevent American Express from pursuing it.

And he took exception to Mr. Golub's claim that Visa threw financial support at a few big banks to the exclusion of most members.

"That's totally untrue," the Visa U.S.A. chief said. "If you look at what we do, we provide advertising programs, we provide systems, we provide technical assistance, we provide the Olympics, we provide the Triple Crown, we provide the NFL sponsorship.

"What little community bank could afford to have an Olympics card if it weren't for Visa? What midsize banks could afford to have promotional programs to send people to the Olympics, or to the Triple Crown, or to the NFL game of the week?

"I don't know that he had his facts right," he said of Mr. Golub. "We are, if anything, a field-leveler."

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