As Honor Technologies Inc. expands across the country from its Florida base, the electronic banking network is also branching out-literally.

Honor is maintaining offices in Birmingham, Ala., Columbia, S.C., and Reston, Va., which it left in place after it bought the Alert, Relay, and Most networks.

Honor intends to do the same in St. Louis, Albuquerque, and Wichita, Kan. Those offices would serve territories that Honor would open by buying BankMate in Missouri from MasterCard International, and BankMate New Mexico, Via in Kansas, and Express in Arkansas from NationsBank Corp.

The Maitland, Fla., company has become the biggest regional automated- teller network, connecting more than 30,000 ATMs, and it may also set up a subsidiary to serve the West.

Honor expects to encounter markets "significantly different than what we know in the East and Southeast," chief executive officer Thomas O. Bennion told a membership meeting this week in Orlando, his first public airing of the subsidiary idea.

The unit has the working title of Honor West and would make it easier to adjust procedures and pricing to "adapt to the different markets," Mr. Bennion said.

He said an independent platform for the West would also increase flexibility and reliability. Honor will work with more than 300 processors, and Mr. Bennion said "it is a little scary to have them all on the same platform." Volume for the system is closing in on one billion transactions per year.

Honor is not alone among growing networks that want to stay in close touch with member institutions. Honor, with about 300 employees, will have 2,800 members after the pending deals. Mr. Bennion stressed the need to maintain high levels of customer service while gaining the advantages of larger-scale processing.

Pulse EFT Association, the Houston-based network that increasingly competes with Honor, similarly kept open a Louisiana office after its acquisition of Gulfnet Inc. last April. The Gulfnet technical conversion is slated for completion Dec. 1.

A separate geographical subsidiary would be unusual. John B. Benton, chief executive of Benton International, a consulting arm of Perot Systems Corp., said Honor could accomplish its goals as a single entity. But forming Honor West could send a message about its "focus on local or regional needs" and help address more complex disaster recovery and other technical needs, said Mr. Benton, who was in Orlando to speak at the Honor Technologies meeting.

Mr. Bennion put Honor's method of expansion in the context of wanting to keep driving forward. "We're not satisfied with what we have and will keep trying to improve it," Mr. Bennion said.

"Big isn't always better, that's true,but we have to get to a certain size to have the staying power to be around for the next 20 years," he added. "We hope, for those of you who are going through a (post-merger) conversion, that this will be the last you go through for a regional network."

He said the Midwest-the last major area of relatively small ATM networks and fragmented market structures-holds "a lot of opportunity" for further growth.

In the latest addition to its product menu, Honor unveiled a Web hosting service, making available an Internet home page to each member.

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