Hoping to generate new business from the growing interest in alternative delivery systems and electronic payment systems, two well-respected payment systems consulting firms, Dove Associates Inc. and Syntonix Corp., have merged.

The merged entity, which will take the Dove name, will build consulting relationships with banks, electronic payment networks, and technology vendors to help them understand and take advantage of new opportunities in an electronic banking world.

"I think banking is essential to a modern economy, but banks are not;'said Stephen P. White, former Syntonix.president, who became a managing director of Dove. "Payment systems may be banks' last bastion of relevance."

"If I were a financial institution, I would be very concerned about losing the front end of the payment systems," added David W. Dove, president of the Boston-based firm. "There are very aggressive off-premise deployers out there, and banks do not consider them enough of a threat."

Both partners asserted that banks are allowing control of payment systems to slip out of their hands. As an electronic payments consultant to the industry, Dove would like to see banks become more aggressive about exploiting payment systems, Mr. Dove said.

The merger is a good fit, said Mr. White, since Dove and Syntonix share the typical banking client: large institutions with assets of more than $15 billion.

Mr. White boasts a long career in electronic payment systems consulting. He was a founding member of Atlanta's Speer & Associates in 1980. He left Speer to start Global Concepts Inc. in 1988. In 1991, Mr. White sold Global Concepts and immediately formed Syntonix.

Dove Associates, founded in 1981, is best known for its strategic and organizational consulting services to clients in the food and beverage industries. It expanded into electronic banking in the mid1980s with work for Plus System, the international automated teller machine network, now owned and operated by Visa International.

Dove has also consulted for Bank of Boston Corp. and General Electric Corp.

The merged entity will target three categories of client, said Mr. White: financial institutions in the S30 billion- to S40 billion-asset range. regional and national networks, and hardware and software vendors.

Mr. Dove and Mr. White said that the merger of their two organizations brings a new expertise to the industry.

"Distribution is key in the food and beverage industry. These companies have invented new ways to get products to market to ensure the demand," said Mr. Dove. "We can apply that to the banking world."

As fewer bank customers, either retail or corporate, see any need to visit a branch to do their banking, banks must find ways to communicate, cross-sell, and otherwise deliver products and services.

"Nonbanks are exploiting the payment systems, and they're starting to take control," said Mr. White. "Banks have to change their thinking.

"As consultant, we can do anything with any electronic delivery method: ATMs, debit, point of sale, smart cards, home banking. And we can help banks develop cost/price strategies to ensure they enter these new areas profitably."

The post-merger Dove boasts 35 employees, most of them based in Boston, San Francisco, or Atlanta.

By the end of next year, said Mr. Dove, the firm will have three additional offices -- in San Francisco, San Diego, and Brussels -- and twice as many employees.

The firm is in the process of negotiating with other, similar consulting firms for further alliances and mergers. Neither Mr. Dove nor Mr. White would comment on any specific prospective alliance.

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