Buoyed by internal growth and acquisitions, Fiserv Inc., a Brookfield, Wis., bank outsourcer, is enjoying healthy appreciation of its stock price and achieving landmark rises in revenues and customers.
The company, whose stock closed Friday at $39.25, down 6.25 cents for the week but up 20% for the year, posted higher banking revenues than Alltel Information Services Inc. for the first time last year. Thus Fiserv eased into a distant second place behind the financial industry behemoth Electronic Data Systems Corp. Fiserv's $974 million of revenue falls far short of EDS' $2.4 billion in banking, brokerage, and insurance but outranks Alltel's banking business by $1 million.
But Fiserv overtook EDS for the first time in terms of number of customers. It has 2,297 bank outsourcing agreements, compared with 100 fewer at EDS, according to an annual report from Computer Based Solutions Inc.
Fiserv's most recent acquisitions reflect its desire to evolve with its bank customers as Glass-Steagall barriers crumble. It bought Specialty Insurance Service, an Orange County, Calif., provider of software and services for the property and casualty insurance industry.
Combined with other acquisitions in 1997, including securities processors BHC Financial Inc., Stephens Inc., and Savoy Discount Brokerage, Fiserv is preparing "a three-pronged attack on the financial industry in securities, insurance, and core processing," said Dean C. Schmelzer, executive vice president of marketing at Fiserv.
At the current run-rate, 13% of Fiserv revenues now come from securities-related services, Mr. Schmelzer said. Six percent of 1997 revenues came from overseas sales.
As an amalgamation of nearly 80 acquisitions, Fiserv has taken criticism over the years for operating too many disparate systems, including 31 for core account processing and 36 for item processing.
The company recently completed a drastic overhaul in how it manages and sells its burgeoning products and services. Growth through acquisition "forced us to change our product strategy," Mr. Schmelzer said.
"We don't want to lose credibility in terms of having an inconsistent message," he said. "And as we bring in security and insurance, it only makes the problem more complex."
With 87 million shares outstanding, the company has pierced the $3 billion market-cap level, which should put the company's stock on the radar screens of a larger, more varied audience, said Carla Cooper, analyst at Robert W. Baird & Co., Milwaukee, a unit of Northwestern Mutual Co.
The company recently executed a 3-for-2 stock split to keep shares within the reach of individual investors. Ms. Cooper has a "buy" rating on the stock. Despite banking mergers and the problems associated with year- 2000, she said Fiserv can increase its sales of outsourcing and software services to many smaller banks.
"Year-2000 is prompting a lot of banks to think really hard whether it makes sense to upgrade old systems and make them compliant," Ms. Cooper said. "It creates a wonderful motivation to consider outsourcing."
Mr. Schmelzer said in-house research indicated that 5% of all Fiserv's sales last year were directly related to year 2000 concerns. The problem influenced another 20% of sales.