Visa, operator of the world's largest consumer credit card payment system, said Wednesday it plans to restructure its organization to create a new public company and then sell shares in an initial public offering.

In the first step, a new company called Visa Inc. will be created through a series of mergers involving Visa Canada, Visa USA and Visa International, which includes the regions of Asia Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Central and Eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa.

Visa Europe will remain a membership association, owned and governed by its European member banks, and become a licensee of Visa Inc.

Visa said the restructuring will improve organizational efficiency, address certain legal claims that exist in some markets, and increase access to capital.

After the mergers are complete, Visa said it will begin the IPO process and list its shares on a major stock exchange. It expects most of the shares in the reorganized company will be sold to the public.

Visa is currently a private membership association jointly owned by more than 20,000 financial institutions around the world.

The boards of Visa's six regions and Visa International have unanimously approved the plans, which are now subject to approval by Visa members and regulatory authorities.

Visa Europe will be a minority stockholder in the global company, and Visa Inc. will have a minority investment interest in Visa Europe. As part of the restructuring, Visa Inc.'s board will consist of a majority of independent directors. A search for independent directors and a chief executive officer for Visa Inc. is underway.

The plans come in the wake of a similar move by rival MasterCard Inc. (MA), which went public in May.