Equifax Inc.s decision to spin off its credit card and check processing businesses into a stand-alone public company underscores its aim to join the ranks of the top processors, which themselves have been making organizational realignments to improve their position in the lucrative business.
Equifax said that its payment services division which processes check and card transactions for community banks and credit unions has long been overshadowed by what Wall Street considers to be its core business, credit bureau information. Equifax said that transaction processing is a profitable business with increasing opportunities overseas, and that it wanted to make the most of its expertise in this area.
To grow the processing business without a corporate breakup would pose conflicts of interest, say executives of the Atlanta company. Equifax wants to pursue the top U.S. banks and retailers as processing customers but feared it would be competing against customers of its information services division. Major U.S. banks rely on Equifaxs database for credit checks, and some of them are also involved in processing ventures.
On Friday, Equifaxs board of directors approved the split, in which 40% of Equifaxs business what is now known as payment services will be spun off by next summer. The new company, which has yet to be given a name, will also be based in Atlanta, and will likely retain the 5,000 employees that now work in the division. The information services division has 9,000 workers.
Thomas Chapman, chairman and chief executive officer of Equifax, will retain those titles and will become chairman of the new concern. Lee Kennedy, president and chief operating officer of Equifax, will move over to become president and CEO of the new company.
First Data Corp. did a corporate reorganization earlier this year, motivated partly by its recognition that transaction processing is a growing and lucrative business line. Visa International, which owns 50% of Vital Processing Services, a merchant-processing concern, also decided this year to make a bigger play for global processing volume, expanding on what had once been called its shared services organization.
Until now, Mr. Chapman said, Equifaxs processing unit has not bumped up against the giants in the industry he named First Data and Total System Services Inc. because they serve larger banks and retailers, and Equifax works exclusively with community banks and credit unions, and counts 5,500 of them as processing clients.
But Equifax wants to go after the larger end of the market, both in the United States and internationally, and, as payment services continues to go for the larger card issuers, theres increased potential for more friction with the information and Internet sides of the business, Mr. Chapman said.
During a Webcast for investors on Monday morning, Mr. Kennedy said, We operate a merchant-processing business. We find it very difficult to solicit new customers for that business because many of the merchants and issuers would be taken away from the banks we serve on the information side.
Pending approval by the Internal Revenue Service, the company said the spinoff will be through a tax-free stock dividend and should be in effect by next summer.
Mr. Chapman said there were no synergies between the information side of the business and the payment services side. Separating information services from payment services creates two very strong companies, each with its own management team and board of directors, he said. As independent companies, each will set its own strategy for acquisitions, alliances, and resource allocations.
Andrew W. Jeffrey, an analyst at Robertson Stephens & Co. who follows the company, said that there had been a growing reluctance by banks to share consumer spending and credit information with Equifax, and the split-up would address a fundamental conflict of interest. He predicted the move would not change either business very much in the end.
David Kerdell, an analyst at CIBC World Markets, posted a buy rating for Equifax. He said that as long as the two companies can meet revenue expectations, the spinoff should boost share prices.
Related Content Online: