Visa's announced plans to conduct an initial public offering within the next 18 months were not necessarily a surprise. After all, MasterCard's stock price has nearly doubled since it went public in May, and Visa's issuing banks have been seeking ways to reduce their antitrust liabilities.
  However, the move does raise some questions:
  n Visa has been known to dole out millions to help spur market adoption of its products, often with a cloak of secrecy more possible with being a private organization. The failed co-branded Target Visa smart card program is a classic example. Would Visa Inc., a public company, have the same leverage to fund new initiatives to help get them off the ground and with the same secrecy?
  * Would Visa Inc. be more likely to promote Interlink, its PIN-based point-of-sale debit brand? Imagine how big Interlink, already the nation's leading electronic funds transfer network in terms of overall transaction volume, could become with Visa's marketing muscle behind it. Visa today only markets its products that carry the Visa brand.
  * If the IPO enables Visa to secure millions in extra capital, toward what new products, services or acquisitions might the funds be used? Might we see another try at Visa check card II, the single-branded signature- and PIN-debit card that failed a few years ago? That might answer the Interlink question, and issuers are more open these days to putting their brand eggs in one basket.
  * Would merchants benefit from a potentially stronger, more independent Visa?
  * If Visa Inc. merges Visa's member operations from other parts of the world, how will the new global company meet the needs of its members locally?
  * Would Visa Inc. be more likely than Visa USA to settle the merchant class-action lawsuit over alleged collusion in setting interchange rates? And what fallout would Visa's large issuing members that also are defendants in the case face?
  Only time, of course, will tell the outcome of a Visa IPO. But what is sure is that the payments landscape certainly is more fluid than stable these days.
  (c) 2006 Cards&Payments and SourceMedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
  http://www.cardforum.com http://www.sourcemedia.com
 

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