In the latest sign of consolidation among regional electronic banking networks, St. Louis-based BankMate has put itself on the selling block.

The banks that own the network, the nation's 12th largest, "have decided this is an opportune time to capitalize on the investment we have made in the switch," said Robert W. Chenoweth, chairman of BankMate's parent, Monetary Transfer System.

Monetary Transfer System is owned by Boatmen's Bancshares Inc. of St. Louis, Mercantile Bancorp. of St. Louis, and United Missouri Bancshares of Kansas City. Mr. Chenoweth is an executive vice president at United Missouri's flagship bank in Kansas City.

In December, the three owners sold off their jointly owned transaction processing company, Credit Systems Inc., to First Data Resources in Omaha, the largest credit card processor.

Credit Systems handled the processing for the BankMate automated teller machines and point-of-sale terminals. Mr. Chenoweth said the decision to sell BankMate was unrelated to the sale of Credit Systems.

Industry observers said a BankMate deal would continue a trend in which an increasingly smaller circle of players are coming to dominate the once fragmented regional electronic banking business.

The trend is accelerating in the Midwest, which is evolving from single-state or regional to multistate networks, and is home to over a third of the nation's 50-odd regional systems.

BankMate "is an interesting piece of the midwestern consolidation. It's not a cornerstone, but it's certainly a good piece," said Richard Speer, chairman of Speer & Associates in Atlanta.

Late last month, the network began soliciting bids, through the First Annapolis Consulting Group in Maryland, from less than a dozen networks and processing companies.

Sources say potential bidders for BankMate - which boasts about 2,500 ATMs and a "healthy" point of sale debit program - include Electronic Payment Services Inc., Cash Station Inc., Magic Line Inc., Fifth Third Bancorp, and Electronic Data Systems Corp.

The ATMs and POS terminals are spread about six states, including Missouri, Illinois, and Kansas.

Though the network probably has not received any formal bids, it is expected to fetch between $5 million and $8 million. Its annual revenues exceed $4 million, Mr. Chenoweth said.

BankMate wants all bids in by the end of this month, and it hopes to wrap up the transaction by yearend. Outside experts see that timetable as unrealistic, saying the network's sale will take at least a year.

Most of the potential bidders would probably eliminate the BankMate service mark, but a more generic transaction processing specialist such as EDS would be likely to keep it.

Observers said the prospective cost of marketing a new brand name in BankMate's region could drive the acquisition price down.

Other concerns about the network include whether Boatmen's, Mercantile, and United Missouri will continue to route debit transactions through the network after the sale.

Mr. Chenoweth said the three banks are prepared to guarantee a certain level of transaction volume as part of any sale agreement.

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