To get his point across about how much his company has changed, Equifax Inc. president Thomas F. Chapman calls it "the new Equifax."
The information services company is pursuing an aggressive growth strategy, shedding unwanted business lines while giving its core credit bureau operations a face-lift.
The changes-both substantive and cosmetic-are also being reflected in brick and mortar. While diversifying and reinventing itself, Equifax is building a new headquarters a block away from its 1956 building on Atlanta's Peachtree Street.
"We are trying to find new businesses, as opposed to staying in just the credit referencing business," Mr. Chapman said in a recent interview.
Though Equifax and rivals Trans Union Corp. and Experian Inc. may be best known for their consumer credit reporting, the three companies are fast becoming much broader in scope.
In 1997 Equifax rang out the old. First it unraveled 98 years of history by spinning off its insurance unit, which had been a part of the company since its founding and contributed about a third of revenues.
Then the $1.3 billion company dismantled some newer business lines, selling a three-year-old operation that provided information to the health- care industry.
At the same time, Equifax was launching businesses and acquiring companies-a process that continues.
Within the past four months, Equifax has begun a service that tracks people who do not pay their telephone bills, and formed an alliance with HNC Software Inc. for data base enhancements and other services.
In December it signed a letter of intent to acquire a software company, Goldleaf Technologies Inc., that is expected to boost Equifax's presence in the payment processing business. Goldleaf makes software for automated clearing house, electronic data interchange, interactive voice response, and Internet banking applications.
Equifax will fold Goldleaf into its growing Card Solutions unit, which provides card-issuing and merchant processing software.
The changes will have more of an effect on Equifax's emphasis than its size. Once viewed as something of a hodgepodge, the new Equifax has emerged as an enterprise with pieces that fit as snugly as those of a jigsaw puzzle.
"Equifax wasn't widely followed on the Street-it was confusing," said Jennifer Scutti, a Prudential Securities analyst. "It had a number of businesses that didn't have any synergies."
Mr. Chapman, 54, began to recognize this when he joined Equifax in 1990 as corporate senior vice president in charge of credit reporting sales and marketing. Today, he said, his goal is to provide customers-primarily banks and retailers-with a "total solution," a sort of shopping mall of financial services.
"We are a data base company that has gone from just storing data all the way to predicting the future of portfolios and individual customers," Mr. Chapman said.
Equifax offers services related to the acquisition and retention of its customers' customers. It also runs a collections business, sells software, and does check and credit card processing.
As Equifax evolves, it is fast building a number of businesses based on its expertise as a repository of data-and more recently as an interpreter of data-to help lenders assess credit risk. The telephone tracking service and alliance with HNC Software are examples.
And Wall Street is taking notice.
"Equifax is a much more focused company," said Robinson-Humphrey analyst David Keil. Of the three credit bureaus, Equifax is the only one that is publicly traded.
Ms. Scutti wrote in a report that Equifax "is better positioned to realize sustainable growth opportunities" since the insurance spinoff was completed in August.
Also since August, Equifax's stock price reached a record high, adjusted for the insurance spinoff, of $36.4375, said Martie Edmunds Zakas, director of Equifax's investor relations.
The insurance business, which provides risk assessment information to underwriters of life, health, and property-and-casualty policies, as well as employment screening services, "was a smaller piece of the earnings pie," Mr. Chapman said. "They were vying for resources when we were the part of the company that made the preponderance of the profit."
Mr. Chapman, who was named president and chief operating officer of Equifax in August, became chief executive officer on Jan. 1, succeeding Daniel W. McGlaughlin, who retired.
An Atlanta native, Mr. Chapman has bank roots. He spent 20 years at First Atlanta Corp. (which merged into Wachovia Corp. in 1985) and said the experience taught him "the complexity of what people in card plants, branches, and mortgage companies need."
The part of Equifax that Mr. Chapman first joined, the financial services division, has acquired 50 companies since 1990. The company was under no financial pressure to get rid of the businesses it shed, and Equifax itself admitted it had made a mistake with its three-year-old health-care unit, which had been built up through the acquisition of six companies.
The divested insurance unit had been underperforming, but even that had not dragged down the company. Equifax itself had had 22 consecutive record quarters through June 30, the last quarter before the spinoff.
"I think they literally decided that if they were serious about dismantling the company, they needed to do it when they were strong," said an executive close to Equifax, who did not want to be identified.
Mr. Chapman said the peripheral business lines had stood in the way of his more ambitious plans to establish Equifax on a global scale.
"One reason we go abroad is our North American customers are there," Mr. Chapman said. "We have built a credit system that is exportable around the world." Equifax offers a variety of services internationally, so that if it cannot establish a traditional credit bureau in a market, it has other businesses it can sell, like card processing, modeling, and software.
Equifax has operations in 17 countries, and 25% of revenues come from outside the United States. Though Trans Union and Experian are also expanding internationally, Equifax is planting its flag with more urgency.
Mr. Chapman says his competitors cannot keep up with Equifax's globetrotting.
But he generally gives the impression that he is indifferent toward those particular rivals. Equifax, he said, competes with "probably 1,000 different companies that are in the risk-management business."
The competitor that Experian and Trans Union are watching closely-First Data Corp.-does not seem to worry Mr. Chapman.
Equifax and First Data compete directly in the card processing business. First Data has the top market share; Equifax primarily serves small card issuers.
"We don't really worry about FDC as a competitor," Mr. Chapman said. "Our niches are different."
But he added, "We have the capability to deal with the larger companies, should we elect to do that."
Equifax is primarily flexing its corporate muscle to develop new businesses. The consumer telephone data base is an example of what the new Equifax is all about: It is separate from Equifax's consumer credit data base, but it draws on Equifax's expertise as a provider of risk management services.
Banks and retailers, though they might find it useful to know who is defaulting on telephone bills, will not have access to this information.
It is being sold only to telephone companies that want to reduce their losses from people who do not pay their phone bills.
Equifax has offered such a data base for commercial use since 1995, collecting information on disconnected or unpaid commercial accounts.
The business unit is representative of Equifax's mission to provide risk management services to a variety of industries.
Mr. Chapman said. "We have less mass. We are totally focused now."