The president of Unified Merchant Services, a joint venture of First Data Corp. and NationsBank Corp., has moved to another First Data division.

O.B. Rawls 4th, who had held the merchant processing post for two and a half years, will "work at First Data Merchant Services, reviewing merchant bank alliances internationally," said First Data spokeswoman Melissa Baron.

Mr. Rawls' new title has not been announced, but he will report to Roger Peirce, group president of First Data's electronic funds services division.

He was succeeded at Unified Merchant Services by J. David Stanford and Martin J. Uhle, who were senior vice presidents of KeyCorp's merchant and debit services division.

Mr. Stanford has been named president and Mr. Uhle, chief operating officer of Unified Merchant Services. Both will be based in Charlotte, N.C., and report to Linda Mock, president of alliance management, a unit within First Data electronic funds services.

The change in Mr. Rawls' status underscores Hackensack, N.J.-based First Data's international ambitions, while the hirings leave a significant management void at Cleveland-based KeyCorp.

"This is a great personal opportunity and challenge," said Mr. Rawls, who is 46. "First Data has done a lot in the U.S. expanding merchant processing. We feel acquirers outside the U.S. need our services and are willing to buy them."

Unified Merchant Services was started in 1995 as a joint venture of NationsBank and Nabanco, then the largest processor of credit card transactions for merchants. Later that year First Data acquired Nabanco's parent, First Financial Management Corp., and inherited the alliance.

First Data, the largest merchant acquirer, processes about 40% of U.S. merchant bank card transactions.

According to The Nilson Report of Oxnard, Calif., Unified Merchant Services has an $8 billion portfolio, serving 63,000 merchants. KeyCorp has about 75,000 merchants, with $7 billion of annual sales volume.

Industry observers credited Mr. Stanford and Mr. Uhle with building KeyCorp's portfolio to its current level.

Lucas Del Valle, a spokesman for KeyCorp, said Mr. Stanford and Mr. Uhle will not be replaced. Instead, KeyCorp will reorganize the merchant services division and distribute the two executives' duties.

Because First Data is well entrenched as the largest U.S. merchant processor, if it is "going to continue to grow in the next two to three years as in the past, it is probably looking to Europe," said Nicholas Ferrante, president and chief executive officer of Ferrante Financial Services Inc., Chatsworth, Calif.

Richard Robida, executive vice president of Speer & Associates, Atlanta, said that NationsBank, despite its alliance with First Data, has not been as aggressive on its own in the merchant business "as they would have liked."

Under its new management, Mr. Robida said, Unified Merchant Services may try to grow more aggressively.

As for First Data's global plans, Mr. Robida said the company "wants to continue to build and touch as many bank card transactions globally as it can and continues to position itself more as a global player with global solutions."

Paul Martaus, president of Martaus & Associates, Clearwater, Fla., said, "First Data is banking that the U.S. model is as valid in Europe as it is in the U.S. The European market is ripe."

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