Checkfree Corp., which has added whole new lines of business through buyouts this year, faces an uphill battle in trying to sustain earnings while marketing its new capabilities, analysts said.
The Columbus, Ohio-based company, best known for its consumer bill payment services, has spent the last few months absorbing Servantis Systems Inc. of Norcross, Ga., Security APL Inc. of Chicago, and Interactive Solutions Corp. of Portland, Ore.
The companies make technology for cash management, home banking, corporate and mortgage lending, risk management, portfolio management, and a variety of other banking-related services.
Checkfree said last week that it has successfully combined the operations of the acquired companies. But that's just the first step.
It is now turning its attention to communicating the wide range of products and services that it now offers banks.
A May report from Gary R. Craft, an analyst in Washington with Friedman, Billings, Ramsey & Co., said that "a costly brand-development strategy" weighs down Checkfree's ability to increase earnings.
But Pete Kight, chairman and chief executive officer of Checkfree, said in a May interview that the company needs to market aggressively to make let bankers know about its expanded capabilities.
Checkfree's stock price dropped about 10% last week, amid labor data and a Fed announcement that sent the Dow Jones industrial average plunging 115 points Friday.
The Checkfree name has become synonymous with bill payment; the company has gathered more than 500,000 consumer users of its services over the years.
But Checkfree is no longer interested in selling these or other services directly to consumers. Instead it wants to sell to banks, which in turn can market to their retail customers.
"Banks are where consumers want to go for these services," Mr. Kight said.
Even if Checkfree shakes the image of a consumer-direct company, it faces stiff competition in the wide range of fields where it wants to compete.
Mr. Craft, who only recently initiated coverage of Checkfree, gave the stock an "underperform" rating in his report.
One reason for the rating: Checkfree's "ability to leverage banking channels is held in check by encroaching competition from Visa Interactive and Sterling Commerce."
Checkfree may need to make further acquisitions to round out its bill payment services, but such acquisitions are unlikely to boost earnings, the report said.
Mr. Craft said he agreed with a "prevailing Wall Street consensus that profitability will prove elusive until 1998."
Meanwhile, Checkfree is looking for a chief financial officer. It said last week that Robert E. Bowers will leave in August to pursue other interests.
The company said it expects to find a replacement by the end of the summer.