American Express doesn't worry Visa the way it did a year ago.
Edmund P. Jensen, president of Visa International, said American Express failed to deliver on the competitive threats that were so prominently on credit card bankers' minds.
In Puerto Rico for the annual meeting of Visa's Latin American and Caribbean membership, Mr. Jensen said the New York-based financial services giant "hasn't lived up to its billing in terms of what it said it would get out of banks."
Those statements, beginning with a May 1996 appeal from American Express chairman Harvey Golub that bankers consider entering into marketing partnerships with his company, started a war of words that was especially heated on the Visa front.
American Express made some inroads overseas -including several deals in Latin America-but failed to persuade U.S. bankers to overturn Visa and MasterCard policies that bar such partnerships.
In an interview, Mr. Jensen described American Express' track record as unimpressive.
"I don't see anything coming out of what American Express is doing as a threat," the Visa chief executive officer added.
His attitude contrasted sharply to the tone at last year's Visa Latin America meeting in Orlando. Mr. Jensen implored member banks to rejectAmerican Express' overtures, which he saw as a threat to "dilute" the Visa brand.
Despite the warning, Latin American members such as Banco Popular de Puerto Rico and Banco de Credito National of Brazil forged relationships with American Express.
Visa has been emboldened by the outcome of antitrust complaints American Express filed last year with government authorities in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, and Mexico. American Express charged both Visa and MasterCard International with illegally preventing member banks from working with American Express.
The complaints were pre-emptive strikes against the possibility that Visa and MasterCard would adopt rules against comarketing like those in the United States.
Only Brazil has not dismissed Amex's complaints.
"American Express was fighting ghosts on something that did not exist," Mr. Jensen said.
His message last year was to keep Visa strong by shunning American Express. This year Mr. Jensen mentioned American Express only in passing during his prepared remarks to members.
"A basic difference between Visa and all others like Amex, First Data Corp., even MasterCard and Mondex" is that Visa "does not use (its members) so that Visa can make money."
In that statement was a reiteration of Mr. Jensen's previous criticism that the Mondex smart card venture, 51% owned by MasterCard, is a collaboration whose "mission is its own profit."
His bottom line is that "the gap between Visa and its competitors continues to increase." Mr. Jensen put Visa's international share of payment volume at 57%. He pointed out that its $1 trillion of annual volume has doubled from three years ago and is about twice MasterCard's figure. Visa's closely watched share of personal consumption expenditures has grown past 5%, from 3.3% three years ago, Mr. Jensen said.
Latin America is one of Visa's biggest success stories. Its volume grew in the 12 months through June 30 by 155%, to $53.8 billion.
Mr. Jensen said future growth will be tied to smart card technology and the Internet, "which together will revolutionize banking."
He painted a vision in which every school-age child will have at least one payment card to buy such things as school lunches. Before that happens, financial institutions must realize the growing role that merchants will play in advancing such technology, Mr. Jensen said.
For example, Visa Argentina formed a partnership with McDonald's to issue Visa Cash, a stored-value chip card. McDonald's will have the opportunity to add loyalty points or coupons that can be used like cash for other purchases.
Such payment innovation cannot succeed without merchants' enthusiasm and cooperation, Mr. Jensen said.