Alltel Information Services Inc. is expanding its lending automation business by millions of accounts with an arrangement to provide data processing for Ford Financial, the world's largest automotive finance company.

Alltel worked with Ford for two years to develop a leasing and loan processing system that will be housed in Alltel's technology center in Little Rock. Ford Financial, a subsidiary of Detroit-based Ford Motor Co., is expected to convert all of its eight million North American accounts to this system by mid-2002.

Jeff Fox, president of Alltel Information Services, said the company has a long history of providing auto loan processing to banks and automotive companies. Its more recent history includes an alliance with a loan collection company and the purchase of an auto finance benchmark consulting specialist, and the unit is pursuing partnerships and sales prospects in Europe, Mr. Fox said.

"We have made auto lending an area of strategic global focus in the last three years," he said. "We think it's very high-growth, and we think the market has been underserved."

Christine Pratt, a senior analyst at TowerGroup, a consulting firm in Needham, Mass., said that the U.S. auto finance industry is worth $652 billion now and is expected to be worth $800 billion by 2005. "Companies like Ford and Alltel, that can combine industry expertise with a new way of delivering next-generation technology solutions, will gain competitive advantage in today's market," she said.

Alltel Information Services was formed in 1990 when Alltel Corp. bought Systematics Inc., a company involved in bank data and consumer loan processing. Two years later Alltel Information Services expanded its mortgage loan automation practice by acquiring Computer Power Inc., and in 1999 it branched into commercial lending by purchasing Advanced Information Resources.

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