NEW YORK - Bankers Trust New York Corp. and First Fidelity Bancorp. on Thursday announced an unprecedented joint venture to process checks.
The partners hope to generate significant fee income by handling checks for other institutions. They also expect to slash their own processing costs by pooling computer resources.
The agreement is the latest wrinkle in an industry trend toward consolidation of back-office operations. And it could be a prelude to other such alliances.
Other Ventures Possible
A number of other giant banks - including BankAmerica Corp., Bank of New York Co., Chase Manhattan Corp., Chemical Banking Corp., and NationsBank Corp. - have discussed mergers of check operations over the past few years, according to Wall Street analysts and industry consultants.
The joint venture announced Thursday, to be called Global Processing Alliance Inc., will be equally owned by New York-based Bankers Trust and First Fidelity, of Lawrenceville, N.J. The partners declined to disclose their equity investments.
The unit will process retail and wholesale checks and provide other check-related services.
The two banks expect to process one billion checks annually after a full year of operation, which would make them the 10th-largest processor, according to estimates by Littlewood Shain & Co. They declined to reveal their current total volume. The largest player now, BankAmerica, processes 8 billion items a year, Littlewood says.
Can Offer Low Fees
By joining forces, officials said, the partners will be able to make bigger investments in technology than either could do independently - allowing them to offer low processing fees and attract customers.
The unit plans to make use of image processing and other new technologies that speed the handling of checks, such as electronic check presentment, in which payment data are sent between banks electronically.
The unit plans to set up a transportation network to send checks directly to client banks, bypassing the Federal Reserve System and its fees.
Facilities to Be Combined
The banks also plan to combine check facilities, producing significant cost savings that would be invested in technology, a spokesman for Bankers Trust said.
First Fidelity has check processing sites in Newark, N.J., and Chester, Pa., and Bankers Trust has sites in New Yor City and in Delaware. The ban not say which sites would be retained.
Plans call for operations to be shifted to the new venture starting later this year and be up and running early in 1994.
In its first year of operation the joint venture expects to earn pre-tax revenues of more than $100 million and profits of at least $15 million to $25 million, according to consultants close to the project.
The banks expect to cut their combined check-processing expenses by at least $10 million, or 20%, in the first year and more than $20 million annually after two years.
The venture could have a market value of $150 million within several years, the sources said.
B.J. Kingdon, a managing director of global assets at Bankers Trust, said the agreement reflects pressures for consolidation in check processing and payments services.
He predicted that other alliances will be formed. "This will set a trend in the market that will be unstoppable," he said.
Talks among other banks have reportedly bogged down over competitive issues, but consultants said the announcement could renew interest.
Over the past several years, a number of banks have reduced operating expenses by hiring outside contractors to handle data processing operations, a practice known as outsourcing.
The shared approach by Bankers Trust and First Fidelity will allow them not only to reduce costs but also to generate revenues by acting as outsourcers themselves.
Bankers Trust officials said their check venture differed from others that have been discussed in that Bankers Trust and First Fidelity process different types of checks and do not compete in the same markets.
First Fidelity processes a large number of relatively small-dollar-value consumer checks, while Bankers Trust processes a relatively low volume of high-dollar-value wholesale checks.
"In bringing the two together, you end up with a very attractive operation with high-volume scale in terms of both items and dollar volume," said Lawrence A. Willis, a consultant with First Manhattan Consulting Co. who advised the banks on the deal. He said the mix will bring operational and clearing efficiencies.
The joint venture will be headed by James G. Hamrick, most recently president and chief executive of National Check Inc., McLean, Va.
The venture will be headquartered in Totowa, N.J.