The French cards market stands apart
from its Western European neighbours. Co-branding has only recently
been allowed, and interchange there is lower than most other
European payment card markets. Also, the domestic Cartes Bancaires
card scheme has carved a niche for itself as the dominant payment
scheme, leading to a somewhat tricky co-existence with Visa and
MasterCard. Now, Visa Europe is looking to raise its profile with
the announcement that its French group member, Carte Bleue, will be
merging its business operations in France into Visa Europe.

Visa Europe has long touted that its status as an association in
Europe enables it to serve the interests of its European banks more
closely, and Carte Bleue’s decision has reinforced that view,
having agreed on a memorandum of understanding with Visa Europe.
According to Visa Europe, the aim of the merger is to extend Visa
Europe’s association model by establishing more direct
relationships with French banks in order to meet their needs more
closely.

Visa Europe president and CEO Peter Ayliffe said: “I am
delighted that Carte Bleue, and its member banks, have agreed to
merge card operations with Visa Europe in France. This is the ideal
development of a successful 30-year relationship. It recognises
that the strength of Visa Europe’s association model delivers a
truly European-owned and controlled payments system. This landmark
decision provides the best of both worlds for French banks – a
SEPA-compliant development of their card payments business in
France with local control.”

The merged Visa Europe and Carte Bleue organisation will
continue providing banks with products and services customised to
the French market. Visa Europe will create a ‘national
organisation’ that will be open to all Visa member banks operating
in France to provide local governance on domestic Visa matters.

Carte Bleue and Visa Europe hope to be able to complete the
transaction in the first half of 2009. Carte Bleue has a 60 percent
market share in France, and its product range comprises 20 cards
aimed at consumers and corporates.

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