First Data Merchant Services Corp. announced Old Kent Financial Corp. will be the 11th bank to join its merchant bank alliance program.

David Kerstein, Old Kent executive vice president for retail banking, said the merchant subsidiary of First Data Card Services Group has done the bank's merchant and cardholder processing for about 21 years.

But the alliance with First Data, which services more than 1.7 million merchants worldwide, will allow Old Kent to focus on its "distribution strengths" through its branch network, while First Data takes care of the back-office processing.

"This gives us access to First Data's technology," he said. "We recognize that the merchant processing business is one which is highly dependent on technology."

The alliance, Mr. Kerstein added, will also give Old Kent a joint sales force to service its 75,000-merchant account base.

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