Equifax Inc., continuing to diversify from traditional credit reporting, has signed a letter of intent to acquire FBS Software, a leading provider of mainframe-based systems to credit card banks in the United States and several other countries.

The deal, which the companies expect to complete by the end of this month, will deepen Equifax's penetration in credit cards. The Atlanta company's services now range from full-service processing for community banks and credit unions to marketing support and collections.

As a software provider to banks with in-house systems, Atlanta-based FBS can strengthen Equifax's ties to some of the biggest industry players. FBS' clients include Barclays Bank, Chase Manhattan Bank, Wachovia Bank, and the card processing business of Electronic Data Systems Corp.

Equifax did not announce the acquisition price, which will be in stock, pending completion of a definitive agreement.

Started in First of Atlanta

FBS is a privately held, eight-year-old company that originated inside First National Bank of Atlanta, now part of Wachovia. The software firm, whose initials stand for First Bankcard Systems, had $10 million in revenues last year, more than 100 employees, and more than 50 installations, some as far afield as India and Australia.

The company has personal as well as business tics to Equifax: Thomas F. Chapman, Equifax's executive vice president and architect of the financial information services group that is its biggest business unit, once headed retail banking at First of Atlanta and Wachovia.

Last September, Equifax Card Services, the Tampa, Fla.-based unit that administers a credit card program for members of the Independent Bankers Association of America, licensed FBS Software's Merchant System for managing retailer accounts.

Equifax Card Services was formerly part of Telecredit Inc., one of a string of acquisitions by Mr. Chapman's group in recent years. This year, Equifax agreed to acquire a card-processing unit serving credit unions from First Security Corp. of Utah.

'Broader Services' Cited

The FBS deal "allows us to move up the scale to larger institutions if we wish, but the real thing is to provide even broader services to the customer audiences that we have today," Mr. Chapman said this week.

Equifax, which had $1.2 billion in revenues last year, also expects help from FBS as it sets its sights on overseas growth opportunities.

Larry Towe, FBS executive vice president of marketing and a former First Atlanta banker, said in an interview last year that the vendor's business was about evenly split between the U.S. and other markets, and that it had been making significant inroads in Canada.

"We think that [FBS'] customer base adds significantly to our directed strategy to move our information products to other parts of the world," Mr. Chapman said.

Assuming the acquisition occurs as expected, FBS will remain in its current location with its current management.

Gary Shirley, chief executive of FBS, said each company has a heritage of "true client partnerships" that suggests they will work well together.

Aside from the merchant system recently licensed by Equifax, FBS offers mainframe-based software products for collections and for card processing and authorization. It also provides open systems software for debit point of sale and automated teller machine servers.

Equifax also announced that chairman C.B. Rogers Jr. would stay on indefinitely beyond his 65th birthday in October. Director John L. Clendenin, chairman of BellSouth Corp., said the board was reluctant to "enter into a succession mode at a time when the company is making such dramatic progress."

Mr. Rogers said he appreciated the "vote of confidence in the entire management team."

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