Bipin C. Shah, a bank technologist who spent the 1980s bringing the MAC automated teller machine network to prominence, wants to do the same thing with an electronic funds transfer network he has set up.
Mr. Shah's new project is a company called Genpass Inc., which got its start this week when GTCR Golder Rauner LLC, a private equity firm in Chicago, agreed to put up $180 million for Genpass to buy the EFT and ATM businesses of Affiliated Computer Services of Dallas. Affiliated's network has 16,000 machines in 49 states and processes 220 million transactions a year.
Some larger networks process that many transactions in a month, but Mr. Shah is not daunted.
Genpass, of Fort Washington, Pa., plans "to be one of the four remaining players" in debit processing and switching after the industry's consolidation.
Mr. Shah's timing might seem curious: Many smaller networks have called it quits and sold themselves to larger ones that have the necessary economy of scale.
This year MAC's parent, Concord EFS Inc., bought Cash Station. Last year there were two major funds network deals: Star Systems of San Diego completed a merger with Honor Technologies Inc. of Maitland, Fla., in April; and NYCE Corp. of Woodcliff Lake, N.J., bought Magic Line of Dearborn, Mich., in July.
Though Mr. Shah wants to compete against NYCE, Star Systems, and MAC, he knows he will not be able to do it through internal growth alone - there is too little room in the market. So he will rely on acquisitions, and aims to take Genpass public by 2005.
"We already got a call this morning from a company that wanted to be bought by us," he said last Friday. "There is a major chance in this industry. I am not telling you all my secrets, but we have a lot of fine developments for new companies."
Mr. Shah is Genpass' chief executive officer. George Dillett is his partner and chief financial officer, and Bonnie Hill is in charge of strategic planning. The three worked together as senior managers of Philadelphia National Bank in 1980, when the MAC network was being introduced by a consortium of banks in Philadelphia.
Philadelphia National was the predecessor to CoreStates Financial Corp., which was bought by First Union Corp. Mr. Shah was vice chairman and chief operating officer, Mr. Dillett vice chairman and chief financial officer, and Ms. Hill MAC network senior vice president and business manager.
The driving force behind MAC's growth was a desire to give consumers access to their money in an increasing array of convenient locations - first at ATMs, then at gas stations, supermarkets, and retail stores, Mr. Shah said.
After Mr. Shah left CoreStates in 1991, he "really wanted to buy the MAC network" - or any other ATM network, for that matter - but the prices were too high, he said.
Instead, in 1992 he founded Gensar, a credit card transaction processing company that was sold four years later to Paymentech for $200 million. Mr. Shah then left the payment industry for "a long vacation."
Mr. Shah recently got back in touch with GTCR, the firm that had helped him start Gensar. GTCR helped set up Genpass (the name is derived from the first letters of the names of Mr. Shah's two children and Mr. Dillett's five children) and orchestrated the purchase of the ATM business from Affiliated Computer Services.
Tim Connor Jr., group president of Affiliated's financial industry group, said his company sold the ATM business because it saw no potential for organic growth - the division performed well but was too capital-intensive. "We realized we could not be a consolidator without hurting our profits," he said.
Lee Manfred, a principal of First Annapolis Consulting, which advised Affiliated in the transaction, said that any company buying Affiliated's ATM processing business has an opportunity to grow. The buyer could extend service, benefit from the growing ATM market, or continue acquiring similar businesses. "We see long-term prospects for growth in ATM deployment," Mr. Manfred said.
But Joseph Wallace, a payment industry consultant in Chicago, was skeptical. "Processing is an efficiency game - the cheaper one will win," he said.
The only way to increase market share is to use technology to eliminate inefficiencies, use the Internet to build volume, or cut prices, Mr. Wallace said. The industry's consolidation is "pretty much finished," he said.
Genpass "has a shot, but I don't see much profit," the consultant continued. "Let's just say, if it was publicly traded, I would not buy shares."
Mr. Shah says he is "tremendously excited" about his prospects.
"Not much has changed since I left the business several years ago," he said. "The exception is the Internet. Leveraging the core transaction processing capabilities of Genpass, we will extend our business to the Internet to provide customers secure, near-ubiquitous access to their cash accounts."