Honor Technologies Inc., which connects more automated teller machines than any other regional banking network, said it has an agreement to buy the BankMate network from MasterCard International.
Honor, of Maitland, Fla., has been growing quickly over the last year, acquiring the Most network of Reston, Va., and Alert of Birmingham, Ala.
BankMate is based in St. Louis. The deal, announced Wednesday, would boost Honor's membership to more than 2,500 financial institutions - more than any other regional electronic funds transfer network. Honor would serve customers in 19 states and the District of Columbia with 32,200 ATMs and 85 million transactions monthly.
Thomas O. Bennion, president and chief executive officer of Honor, said the purchase would advance his company's goal of "expanding network coverage." Honor operates in Southern and Mid-Atlantic states; BankMate would be its first foothold in the Midwest.
"The area covered by BankMate is a natural extension of our current service area," Mr. Bennion said. "This will allow us to serve our members more effectively, while providing enhanced services and broader geographic coverage."
BankMate is the retail name used by Monetary Transfer System LLC, which MasterCard bought in 1994. Recently, the card association had indicated it was seeking to sell the unit.
William I. Jacobs, MasterCard's executive vice president for global resources, said the association wanted to focus on credit and debit cards.
"Our decision to sell BankMate comes as a part of MasterCard focusing its resources on core products and services which support the global payments network," Mr. Jacobs said.
Jim Eisenbath, the MasterCard senior vice president who served as president and chief executive officer of BankMate, said his company favored Honor as a suitor because "they have demonstrated their ability to merge different networks into a cohesive company."
BankMate's primary operations are in Missouri, Kansas, and Illinois, which would represent fresh turf for Honor.
"There is a significant opportunity for Honor to expand into surrounding states of the geography they picked up by acquiring BankMate," said Michael A. Strada, president of Electronic Commerce Strategies, an Atlanta consulting firm. "If you can expand into (states like) Nebraska and Iowa, you then over time can end up dominating the Midwest."
One factor driving Honor's expansion strategy is the equity stake that NationsBank Corp. holds in the company. NationsBank of Charlotte, N.C., has been pursuing its own manifest destiny, acquiring Boatmen's Bancshares, St. Louis, in January.
"You tend to follow where your major banks go," Mr. Bennion said.
Mr. Bennion said geographic expansion was "where you're going to get your additional volumes from."
"I use an analogy of a shopping center," he said. "You kind of want a lead tenant, and NationsBank is the lead tenant in that area."
Joseph E. Wallace, a Chicago-based financial consultant, said the network consolidation would benefit member banks, some of which have been "a little upset about paying multiple expenses for the networks." Moreover, the banks would have fewer brand names to carry on their machines.
Mr. Bennion also hinted that his network might continue to push its borders beyond the territory covered by BankMate. "We didn't go into the Midwest with the idea we were just going to deal with or only expand in those states," he said.