The jockeying for position in the home banking business continued this week as Checkfree Corp. announced its intention to acquire Servantis Systems Inc.
The deal, which awaits regulatory approval, would help Checkfree expand the range of home banking services its offers to financial institutions.
The Columbus, Ohio-based company already is one of the nation's largest processors of electronic bill payments. Acquiring Servantis - a software firm based in Norcross, Ga. - would help it provide banks with PC banking and automated clearing-house services.
Servantis also has a customer base that Checkfree considers attractive.
"Servantis has the relationship with the financial institutions that Checkfree never had," said David Weisman, an analyst with Forrester Research, Cambridge, Mass.
Checkfree officials said the company will pay between $165 million and $173.5 million - $43 million in cash and the remainder in Checkfree stock - for Servantis.
Formerly known as Stockholder Systems Inc., Servantis is owned primarily by the venture capital firm Welsh, Carson, Anderson & Stowe.
"By combining Servantis' dominant electronic funds transfer banking technology and its exceptional service reputation with Checkfree's leading electronic commerce technology, we are providing financial institutions with the ability to offer virtually any type of remote banking solution to their customers," said Peter Kight, Checkfree's chief executive. "The acquisition of Servantis greatly expands our partnership with the banking industry to deliver these integrated services."
Combined, Checkfree and Servantis provide remote banking services to more than 100 financial institutions. Many of Servantis' home banking customers are community banks, which fits well with Checkfree's desire to land more business in the smaller-bank segment.
As part of the effort to gain access to more potential customers, Checkfree has forged alliances with Automatic Data Processing, Fiserv Inc., and Electronic Data Systems Corp.
"Checkfree is looking for a niche," said Gary Arlen, a consultant based in Bethesda, Md.
"Big banks are doing it themselves or going with more traditional providers."
Ironically, Servantis recently had emerged as a potential rival of Checkfree.
MasterCard International in November announced a home banking deal with Servantis that cut the card association's existing partner, Checkfree, out of the picture.
"What goes around comes around," Mr. Weisman said of this new twist.
Mark Johnson, a senior vice president at Checkfree, said the company "continues to see MasterCard as a strong partner and player."
A. Christian Fredrick, a senior vice president overseeing the card association's MasterBanking program, said MasterCard intends to work with Checkfree and that the acquisition of Servantis should make Checkfree a more attractive partner than before.
"One of the reasons Checkfree bought (Servantis) is they reached the same conclusion we did," he said.
The Servantis acquisition should receive regulatory approval in the first quarter, Mr. Johnson said.