Visa U.S.A. has appointed veteran retail banker D. Bruce Wheeler to its No. 2 executive post, raising the possibility that he could succeed Carl F. Pascarella as president.

The card association said Mr. Wheeler, 53, will come aboard early this month as executive vice president and chief operating officer, taking on many of the operational responsibilities held by William Stewart, who had those titles before retiring in December.

Among other duties, Mr. Stewart, 56, had been acting head of the e-Visa division that is coordinating the company's electronic commerce initiatives. He was a longtime lieutenant of Mr. Pascarella; they worked together in Visa's Asia-Pacific division, which Mr. Pascarella headed before moving to Visa U.S.A. in 1993.

Mr. Pascarella, 57, has been regarded as an energetic and hard-nosed chief executive officer who showed no let-up in his drive and dedication even after being passed over in the 1998 search for a Visa International CEO. Mr. Pascarella reports to the man who won that job, former Standard Chartered Bank group chief executive Malcolm Williamson.

In a statement released Monday, Mr. Pascarella looked ahead, speaking of the need "to build stronger partnerships with member banks and merchants in the tumultuous business environment of the 21st century."

He said that Mr. Wheeler -- who was not available for an interview Tuesday -- "has had successful careers in banking and in providing services to banks. He has the scope of experience we need to drive greater operational efficiencies while ensuring that we maximize our proprietary processing infrastructure."

Mr. Wheeler had a long banking career, historically a prerequisite for top Visa jobs. He was executive vice president of regional banking at Mellon Bank, president and chief operating officer at the defunct Bank of New England, head of retail banking at First Nationwide Bank, and head of Massachusetts banking operations at Bank of Boston. Positions at Crocker National Bank of San Francisco and First National Bank of Chicago are also on his resume.

For the past five years Mr. Wheeler worked at the sales-training and consulting firm Omega Performance of Sausalito, Calif., where he rose to vice chairman.

The groups reporting to him at Visa are: product, systems development, customer service, operations, pricing, emerging technologies, business initiatives, and the Debit Processing Systems subsidiary in Colorado.

Mr. Wheeler has a BA degree from Harvard University and an MBA from the University of Chicago, where he also earned a master's degree in history and education. He lives in the San Francisco Bay area, where Visa is based.

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