FICS Group popped up on U.S. bankers' radar screens last month when Security First Technologies Inc. announced an agreement to buy it.

The Belgian company-whose name is an acronym for financial information consulting services-has a small U.S. presence, mostly for sales of corporate banking software.

Since setting up shop in Charlotte, N.C., in 1996, the $58 million company has sold regulatory reporting software to a dozen North American financial institutions, and Internet-based cash management software to five.

It kept its Internet-based software for retail banking, which is used by 10 banks around the world, out of the U.S. market.

"There were a lot of competitors in the United States on the retail side," said Fred Dumas, president of FICS America.

That outlook has changed as FICS moves to merge with two of those competitors. FICS first agreed to be acquired by Security First of Atlanta. Together, the two decided to bring in Edify Corp., a Santa Clara, Calif., provider of Internet banking software.

"It's a question of size," said Michel Akkermans, FICS chairman and chief executive officer. "We wanted to create a big company and clearly become a market leader."

The new entity, to be called S1 Corp., "makes so much sense strategically," said Mr. Akkermans, who will be chairman and president of S1. He will oversee product development, strategy, marketing, and worldwide operations.

The combined set of products "can let financial institutions interact with their customers and financial regulators," he said.

Diogo Teixeira, president of Tower Group in Needham, Mass., said he applauded FICS' move to join with Security First and Edify. "A European vendor can't pass muster or get into the capital markets here unless it has a strong U.S. presence," he said.

FICS has 600 financial institution customers in 26 countries. It earned about 15% of its revenue in the United States last year, up from "nearly zero" the year before, Mr. Dumas said.

The 10-year-old company might have raised its U.S. profile on its own if it had carried out plans for an initial public offering.

A prospectus it had filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission in March caught the attention of Security First's chief executive officer, James (Chip) Mahan.

"When he saw the IPO filing, Chip called me, we met, exchanged ideas, visions, ambitions, and objectives," Mr. Akkermans recalled. FICS canceled its IPO.

Mr. Akkermans founded FICS after working on several international payment projects at Continental Bank and Morgan Guaranty Trust Co. in Brussels and London. He saw a growing market for corporate electronic banking software and began serving it with a FICS product called PC Bank.

Breakthroughs came in 1991 when FICS landed its first international client, Paribas of France, and was selected by the Belgian Bankers Association to develop a system for statutory reporting.

The FICS-ABACUS regulatory reporting software is now used by 23 bank regulatory agencies worldwide.

FICS expanded into retail banking in 1993, then into Internet-based products for both retail and corporate banking.

The company's continual diversification has helped it grow by 50% a year. The company employs 650 people at 11 offices in Europe, the United States, Australia, and Asia. Martin Stein, a former chief information officer at Bank of America, sits on FICS' board.

Mr. Akkermans sees S1 Corp. competing with Brokat Infosystems of Germany, an Internet-based retail banking software vendor that last month acquired Transaction Software Technologies Inc. of Atlanta, a provider of cash management software to 17 of the 30 largest U.S. financial institutions.

"The rationale behind Security First, Edify, and FICS teaming together was to make us dominant," he said.

S1 customers would include 26 of the top 50 U.S. banks and 36 of the largest 100 banks worldwide, he said. "If you look at the market penetration of FICS, we're by far the largest player."

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