Equifax Inc., the diversified Atlanta-based credit rating agency, has consolidated its check and card services business into one group.

The new entity, Equifax Payment Services, based in Tampa, Fla., will combine the operating, risk management, processing, and sales functions of the two lines of business, the company said last week.

Check Services markets two products to Fortune 1,000 retailers. The first, verifies that a customer's check is good; the second guarantees the value of the check. Last year, Check Services guaranteed $11 billion in checks, Equifax said.

Card Services offers a number of marketing, processing, card issuing, and collection services to smaller banks - through a contract with IBAA Bancard - and to credit unions.

"This is further evidence," said Thomas F. Chapman, executive vice president and group executive of Equifax's Financial Services Group, that Equifax is "far more than a 'credit bureau.' "

Mr. Chapman named Lee A. Kennedy president and general manager of Equifax Payment Services. Mr. Kennedy has directed the card services business for the past five years under Equifax, and previously, when it was part of Telecredit Inc. Equifax bought the check and card services from Telecredit in 1990.

Mike Bush, who led the card services sales force for the past five years, will now assume responsibility for the group. Tom Gordon, who was president of Equifax National Decision Systems in St. Louis., will head the check business.

Keith J. Floen, the senior vice president of the Credit Union National Association's card services group in Madison, Wis., a competitor to Equifax, said the combination of businesses makes sense. "Normally, you want to get as much synergy as you can between the various payment products."

Linda Echard, president of IBAA Bancard, which has worked with Equifax or its predecessor since 1985, said: "Without question it gives us a much stronger competitor to work for."

"By having Lee Kennedy running both sides - the acquiring side and the issuing side - Equifax is going to be able to focus those resources into one." Ms. Echard noted that with separate staffs, there was some duplication of effort - an assessment with which Equifax concurs.

Mr. Chapman said that Equifax's retail and financial institution customers are searching for integrated point of sale services to suit their customers' needs.

"Our customers are facing challenges in the markets like never before," he said. "They want a total solution from a single source. This reorganization positions Equifax to be that single partner."

For example, retail customers can now look to Equifax for prescreening customers for private label programs, he said. Banks and credit unions can look for merchant support and card support from the same group.

Ms. Echard put it this way: "For us it will be a little bit like having a boxer with a one-two punch" - card issuing and merchant acquiring. Equifax and IBAA Bancard are putting together plans to create a merchant business, she added. This will enable the community banks to sign up retailers to process payments electronically, so that it can accept credit, debit, and checks.

"It's a way for mom and pop shops to get incremental sales and get the support large merchants take for granted," she said. And it allows the community banks to strengthen their relationships with merchants. "Small banks make 85% to 90% of small-business loans."

In addition to banks, credit unions, and retailers, Equifax said a sales force of 700 will target industries - such as hospitals, cable television companies, utilities, and mail order houses - for its payment services.

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