Fifth Third Bancorp's regional automated teller machine network, combating speculation that it is an acquisition target, has added a bank member and will possibly expand its ownership.

The network, whose 1,100 ATMs are in Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, West Virginia, and Tennessee, will add Provident Bank of Cincinnati to its roll of about 200 members.

In addition, Provident, the lead bank of the $4-billion-asset Provident Bancorp, retains the option of owning a piece of the network.

Region's |Premier Network'

Executives of the network, known as Jeanie, indicated that a partnership with Provident is an important step to help preserve the network's independence in the face of ATM network consolidation in the Midwest.

"Through the strategic alliance with Provident Bank, Jeanie is now assured to be the premier network in this region for years to come," said George A. Schaefer Jr., president and chief executive of Cincinnati-based Fifth Third, currently Jeanie's only owner.

By most measures, Jeanie ranks among the top 20 ATM networks in the country. It is run by Midwest Payment Systems, a subsidiary of the $11-billion-asset Fifth Third.

But observers said that, despite Mr. Schaefer's comment, Jeanie is unlikely to be the dominant force in the Midwest. Indeed, some experts question whether the network will exist at all in a few years.

Their reasoning is based on the fact that Jeanie's home market is shaping up to be a battleground between two electronic banking Powerhouses, one or the other of which is likely to absorb the network eventually.

Major Players

The first of these technology companies, Electronic Payment Systems Inc., based in Wilimington, Del., operates under the MAC logo and is looking to add Midwest banks to its membership.

Jeanie's major Midwest competition could come from a group of 15 of the region's largest banks, now negotiating to form Electronic Transactions Inc. Jeanie's members would be hard-pressed to resist joining.

Provident is among the 15 insitutions involved in the Midwest joint venture talks. Until Sept. 1, when the Jeanie agreement takes effect, Provident belongs to the owl network, which is owned by Electronic Payment' Services.

Gaining a Stake

Provident officials said their main motivation in joining Jeanie was to own a piece of the network in which they participate. Provident is at a negotiating disadvantage in the Midwest group's talks, bank officials said, because it is the only institution in the Midwest group that does not have an equity stake in a ATM network.

The bank has not disclosed what share of Jeanie it is entitled to under the recent agreement.

Industry observers said another reason for Provident's joining Jeanie was to avoid becoming part of Electronic Payment Systems, which is in the process of changing the logo on all Owl network ATMs to the MAC trademark.

Seen as Preferable to MAC

The Electronic Transactions joint venture "is still four to five months away, so if Provident wanted to avoid putting MAC on all its cards, it had to find someplace to go in the interim," said Richard Speer, chairman of Speer & Associates, an electronic banking consulting firm based in Atlanta.

Provident officials indicated that a network the size of Jeanie was preferable to MAC membership.

Provident Bank will add 91 ATMs to Jeanie. The bank's relationship with the network may also encompass debit card point of sale, telephone banking, and automated bill payment services in the future.

Provident's 100,000 ATM cardholders will receive new cards with the Jeanie logo.

Meanwhile, the Electronic Transactions group, which in addition to Provident includes First National Bank of Chicago, Comerica Inc., NBD Bancorp, Norwest Corp., and Huntington National Bank of Columbus, Ohio, has been talking with other institutions about joining the formal merger talks.

These prospective member-sinclude Harris Bankcorp, Chicago; Boatmen's Bancshares, St. Louis, and Old Kent Financial Corp., Grand Rapids, Mich.

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