Fujitsu-ICL Systems, one of three major automated teller machine vendors in the United States, has signed an agreement to jointly develop new self-service banking functions with Applied Communications Inc.

Omaha, Neb.-based ACI is a leading supplier of software for ATMs, point of sale terminals, and other electronic payment systems.

The deal is viewed by many as an answer to lingering questions as to the depth of Fujitsu's commitment to the U.S. ATM market.

Under terms of the deal, which was signed last week, ACI and Fujitsu will share technical information about both existing products and those under development.

The exchange of information is expected to lead to recommendations from ACI on improvements for Fujitsu hardware. More important, the partnership will give the banks that purchase Fujitsu ATMs a wider range of optional features to install on the machines.

Racing to Keep Up

The Japanese company, which bases its U.S. operations in La Jolla, Calif, has faced a continuous struggle in recent years to become more than an also-ran in what has become a three horse race. Fujitsu-ICL sold only 8% of the 9,723 new ATMs shipped to U.S. banks in 1992, according to figures from The Nilson Report, an industry newsletter.

Currently, Interbold and NCR Corp. dominate domestic ATM sales. In recent years, the two companies have consistently run first and second in the U.S. market.

The agreement with ACI will make it possible for Fujitsu to compete for business with NCR and Interbold more effectively, experts said.

Industry Rumors

The rumor that Fujitsu may be leaving the U.S. market is "one of those things that's been going around as a piece of gossip," according to Jo Anne Herndon, vice president at King Financial Corp., an Atlanta-based concern that deals in both used and new Fujitsu ATMs.

"But from every indication that we're getting from the company. there's no truth to that tale."

Bankers echo Ms. Herndon's opinion.

Joseph Pendleton, senior vice president at Meridian Bancorp, Reading, Pa., said, "Omron, when its first came into the market, made a lot of noise with a new ATM and then disappeared. I don't think that's going to happen with Fujitsu here."

Meridian is so confident of Fujitsu's intentions that it has named the company as its "vendor of choice" for ATMs. Though the designation does not commit Meridian to using Fujitsu ATMs exclusively, it does function as an endorsement of Fujitsu's activities here.

U.S. Commitment

For their part, Fujitsu executives say their company intends to be a presence in the U.S. market for some time to come.

"The constantly evolving financial industry requires that financial institutions be more flexible and responsive with their product mix," said Ron Omohundro, vice president of financial systems at Fujitsu-ICL.

"Fujitsu-ICL's partnership with ACI ensures that our customer will remain competitive in the services they provide through self-service terminals."

In addition to ATMs, Fujitsu, which has been marketing products to U.S. financial institutions since 1983, sells a variety of electronic banking technologies, including retail point of sale systems.

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