Electronic Payment Services Inc. said its chairman and chief executive officer, David Van Lear, will retire at the end of this month.

The announcement came late Wednesday, confirming speculation in the electronic banking community that Mr. Van Lear was on the way out.

Richard N. Garman, president and chief operating officer since August 1995, will become CEO of the company that owns the MAC automated teller machine network. Executive vice president Robert T. Golitz will add the title of chief operating officer.

A new chairman will be selected from among the directors of Electronic Payment Services, which is owned by Banc One Corp., CoreStates Financial Corp., KeyCorp, National City Corp., and PNC Bank Corp.

As recently as last Friday the Wilmington, Del.-based company denied Mr. Van Lear's exit was imminent. But industry sources were not surprised by Wednesday's news. Reliable sources indicated that the board had decided more than a year ago not to renew Mr. Van Lear's three-year contract, which expired on Dec. 31.

Mr. Van Lear, 55, joined EPS in 1993 from Banc One with big technology development plans. The bank owners reportedly grew dissatisfied as the company got bogged down by legal disputes and internal disarray.

Mr. Van Lear "almost cratered the organization," a source said.

A proposed smart card program, SmartCash, was an-nounced with fanfare in 1995 but fizzled in Wilmington, even as the technology gains momentum around the country.

Though transaction-processing volumes-the core business-grew, Mr. Garman called the loftier goals for industry leadership "more splash than substance."

Mr. Garman, 40, a former Montgomery Securities investment banker, presided over deep staff cuts that included the departure of many high- level executives. Mr. Van Lear is one of the last of the old guard to go; Donald Gleason left as head of the smart card enterprise unit two weeks ago to be a consultant.

Last August the company brought in Mr. Golitz, who had completed downsizing assignments at Fleet Financial Group and elsewhere, to further streamline operations and repair the company's reputation.

One observer credited Mr. Garman with "redirecting the company to be more customer-oriented." He may now be preparing for an initial public offering. "We certainly have the financial track record and maturity of the company to do something in the public marketplace," said Mr. Garman.

The company said Mr. Van Lear, who was not available for comment, will divide his time between a home in Carmel, Calif., and a retreat in Minnesota.

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