Bisys Group and Fiserv Inc. have increased their revenues faster than any other bank outsourcer over the last eight years, a new report indicates.
According to the 1996 "Outsourcing in Banking" report from New Orleans- based consultant M. Arthur Gillis, the two companies have had nearly identical aggregate revenue growth since 1988.
Fiserv, based in Milwaukee, grew by 471.5%, and Bisys, based in Little Falls, N.J., by 471.4%. By contrast, the other three top bank outsourcers grew by an average of 235% over the same period.
Bisys and Fiserv are similar in ways other than their revenue growth.Each has a customer base of more than 5,000, and each offers a diversified group of financial technology services.
But there also are differences. The most prominent - approaches to standardizing product sets and computer platforms - will play a large role in how the companies fare, analysts said.
Fiserv's approach is to acquire companies and let them function largely as they had before being purchased. As Fiserv has bought over 50 companies in the last decade or so, it now has a wide array of processing and software businesses that run on a variety of computer platforms.
Bisys, meanwhile, is firmly committed to providing a unified group of products on systems from International Business Machines Corp.
Fiserv's approach can be more be more expensive to maintain, but it also has its advantages, analysts said.
For starters, it gives bankers more choices, including whether they want to run software in-house or through a service bureau. Bisys does not sell its proprietary software for in-house use.
"Only 45% to 55% of the market wants service bureaus. Bisys, by not having the option of licensing for in-house use, is excluding itself from participating," said William Bradway, a consultant at Tower Group in Wellesley, Mass.
However, Bisys' approach to its business has its advantages as well. According to Mr. Gillis' report, Bisys has the best ratio of profits to revenues of any of the top outsourcing companies.
The reason is low operating expenses, said Jennifer S. Scutti, an analyst at Prudential Securities in New York.
"With Fiserv's strategy, there are a tremendous amount of redundancies and no economies of scale gained other than top-line growth," she said.
There are signals that Fiserv is starting to modify its strategy. Consultants expect Fiserv to consolidate its menu of software and hardware products.
But George Dalton, Fiserv's chairman and chief executive officer, scoffs at the notion of complete standardization.
"I'm in the service business," he said. "We will never have a single product, because not every bank wants the same thing."
Another difference between the two companies is Bisys' investment products business, which analysts say has been its main growth generator over the last few years.
"It makes them much less dependent on the traditional service bureau revenue," said Carl Faulkner, managing director at MOne Inc., a Phoenix consulting firm.
Paul Bourke, president of Bisys, said "We diversified based on our perception of what the end customer wanted. We believe this adds value to the business."
But Fiserv has also branched out, acquiring companies that produce plastic cards and forms for banks. And Mr. Dalton hints that Fiserv may be willing to enter the mutual fund business "if the right opportunity comes along."
Executives at both firms agree that the acquisition game is not over.
"We're on a clear path," said Mr. Dalton. "We will continue to do acquisitions. There are still a few hundred companies out there."
And ultimately, observers said, opportunities exist for Bisys and Fiserv both to keep continue growing for years to come.
"Nothing prevents these companies from expanding to other industries or looking to grow their presence internationally," said Mr. Bradway.
"This will happen well before the acquisition pool here dries up."