A subsidiary of First Bank System Inc. has acquired the Minibank ATM Switch Network from First Interstate Bank of Denver.

The move reflects the continuing consolidation of the industry as small and large regional networks grapple with competition from MasterCard's and Visa's international networks.

Minibank is the nation's 35th-largest regional electronic banking network, with 400 automated teller machines, according to Bank Network News' 1995 rankings. In the same listings, First Bank's Peak network is the 19th largest, with 1,733 ATMs.

The combined Peak-Minibank network would place 17th in the 1995 rankings.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Patricia Bauer, a First Bank senior vice president, said Minibank and Peak would be combined, but management has not decided which name would survive.

Minibank serves consumers from 98 financial institutions, primarily in Colorado and Wyoming.

Peak, operated by First Bank subsidiary Rocky Mountain BankCard System Inc., serves 156 financial institutions in 16 states, primarily Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho.

First Bank also owns the Fastbank network, composed of 1,220 ATMs in the Dakotas, other Mountain States, and Minnesota. Fastbank is ranked 25th by Bank Network News.

First Bank System, headquartered in Minneapolis, has assets of $38 billion.

The Nilson Report, an Oxnard, Calif.-based card industry newsletter, estimated that the number of regional shared networks has dropped from 135 five years ago to 75 today. Spencer Nilson, the newsletter's publisher, predicted the number could sink as low as 15.

"I don't mean to say regional switches should go away, but they need to eliminate the (regional) marks," said Del R. Tonguette, president and chief executive officer of Gulfnet Inc., in Slidell, La., who advocated greater consolidation in a letter to American Banker last year.

Mr. Tonguette, denouncing the proliferation of marks as "absurd" and "marketing folly," issued a call to arms for the larger banks.

"The nationals have to wake up and acknowledge their role and pursue it," said Mr. Tonguette. "They have not aggressively taken on the other regionals. They have not said it is to us you should come to. They keep saying they're the switch of last resort.

"I could save so much money if I didn't have to promote all the marks I promote," he added. "The confusion of customers is surprisingly high."

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