A pioneer of the automated teller machine business, Denny D. Dumler can barely contain his enthusiasm for future financial service frontiers.
"I don't believe we've ever had a greater opportunity for new and exciting things to happen than we enjoy right now," he said during a recent conversation in his Bellevue, Wash., office.
Mr. Dumler, 56, seized one major opportunity almost 30 years ago when he was introduced to credit cards at Colorado National Bank in Denver.
He later played a key role in building one of the early, multibank ATM networks, a predecessor of what is now Visa's Plus System.
As if to bridge generations of payment innovations, Mr. Dumler is president and chief executive officer of TransAlliance, the modern incarnation of a system that dates to the first shared ATM in the country.
It opened in the Seattle suburb of Bellevue in 1974 and gave rise to the Exchange, the dominant ATM system in the Pacific Northwest.
Today's network leaders have far more than ATMs on their minds. As financial service providers, financial institutions try to differentiate themselves with a slew of services such as home banking and Internet access.
They are increasingly turning to the networks for technical, marketing, and strategic support.
"We have moved more from a brand thrust to a processing-partnership thrust while still maintaining this wide array of stuff we do for our clients," Mr. Dumler said.
The burgeoning demand for new services led the Exchange System to form an alliance with Electronic Data Systems Corp. in January 1996.
The resulting fifty-fifty partnership, TransAlliance, combined the electronic banking network's regional clients and expertise with the technological might of EDS, the nation's fourth-largest ATM processor and third-largest ATM deployer.
Under a 10-year agreement with renewal options for up to 30 years, the venture has more than doubled the Exchange's ATM base, to 7,900 from 3,800 (it ranks ninth among regional networks), and has given it a new reservoir of technology from which to draw.
TransAlliance financial institutions and Plano, Tex.-based EDS, Mr. Dumler said, represented just the solution that offers exactly what financial institutions need to position themselves for the next era.
That capability was what made Mr. Dumler decide to leave his position as president and chief executive of Plus System Inc. in Denver, his home for 30 years.
As the first head of TransAlliance, Mr. Dumler said he has drawn on his years of experience dealing with multiple institutions and numerous card- based services.
As a result, he brings an understanding of technology and a vision of where a business needs "to enhance offerings."
He said TransAlliance, like other major networks, is becoming a closer partner with its member institutions by going beyond basic ATM switching and processing.
"Our success here should be based directly on how competitive our organizations are as a result of the services they get from this company," he said. Some of those include telecommunications support, advanced ATM features, gateways to other networks, and off-line debit card services. And he stressed the supportive nature of the relationship.
"If all of a sudden the shared brand becomes more important that the individual banks, then we serve the network fine but we don't serve our banks as well," Mr. Dumler said.
During his tenure, TransAlliance has folded the Exchange's processing and switching software into the EDS system. The company is now ready to test the new package, with planned phase-in at member institutions scheduled to be completed by mid-1998.
"We don't want this to be a big-bang conversion," Mr. Dumler said. "It's meant to be an orderly one."
The company has bolstered its backup capability by linking EDS' main ATM node in Roselle Park, N.J., to the Bellevue control center.
The connection will provide alternative routing for transactions in case of a system failure.
TransAlliance is also testing the home-banking waters. It has signed six institutions for an EDS product, yet it is keeping its options open by evaluating other software providers.
Mr. Dumler is no stranger to the new.
In 1968, when working in the methods and planning department of Colorado National, he analyzed other company divisions to improve worker productivity.
He had some critical things to say about the bank's unprofitable credit card department.
After making a presentation on a Friday to senior management, Mr. Dumler found himself in charge of the credit card operation on Monday morning.
Over nearly three decades, working closely with his boss and eventual Colorado National president D. Dale Browning, Mr. Dumler would become one of a handful of bank card executives who grew up with, and became personifications of, that highly profitable business.
In 1969 Colorado National's card division joined with Central Bank of Denver to create Rocky Mountain BankCard System. They extended their partnership into debit cards by creating Plus, which grew into an international network of more than 102,000 machines by the time Visa bought a majority stake in 1992.
Over the years Mr. Dumler juggled leadership roles in Plus, Rocky Mountain BankCard, and the credit card operations of Colorado National, which was later acquired by First Bank System of Minneapolis.
Mr. Browning, now president of Procard Inc. in Denver, was Mr. Dumler's boss for 25 years at Colorado National. He credited Mr. Dumler for Plus' evolution into a nationwide network and said his talents in operations, other technical aspects, and marketing add up to a promising future for TransAlliance.
"The success of that combination is probably in its infancy, particularly given Denny's leadership," said Mr. Browning.
Mr. Dumler succeeded Mr. Browning in 1993 as CEO of Plus, where he remained until yearend 1995.
With Plus highly focused on national ATM switching, Mr. Dumler was motivated to seek out a venture he views as on the vanguard of financial services.
He said what attracted him to TransAlliance was its ability to "take advantage of several industries for a common good."
Sensitive to the banking industry's "return to proprietary branding," he said, "it will be the financial institution that determines what mark goes up" on cards and machines.
"We simply say anything that supports a financial institution on the depository side of the house with plastics and technology is what we're involved in."