Visa's Merchant Bank Services unit has joined a marketing alliance promoting electronic payments systems in supermarkets.

The partnership, which Visa believes will advance speed and reliability in credit and debit processing while lowering costs, includes Southern Datacomm Inc., Midsouth Data Systems Inc., and Fairway Marketing Group.

"The primary benefit here really goes to the supermarkets," said Steven C. Berardo, vice president and general manager of merchant bank services. "They can deal with only one organization if they want to because behind the scenes we're working together."

Merchant Bank Services is a separate member-owned, not-for-profit company formed by Visa U.S.A. to serve as the primary U.S. distributor of Visa merchant processing services. The unit processed more than 1.6 billion authorizations for Visa member banks in the United States last year.

The unit brings to the table its Visanet POS Services, described as the world's largest point of sale network. Visanet's POS-port connects specialty store chains and regional and nationwide retailers to high-speed communications links for payment processing.

As part of the alliance, Protobase, the communications software of Clearwater, Fla.-based Southern Datacomm, will be integrated into Midsouth Data's electronic payments system.

Visa says that the integration of Protobase will reduce communications costs by enabling users to process and settle transactions more efficiently.

A leading remarketer of the IBM 4680/4690 point of sale systems, Midsouth Data brings to the alliance communications software,its electronic payments system, which facilitates credit and check authorization and debit card processing as well as electronic funds and benefits transfer.

Florida-based Fairway Marketing provides debit and credit services to grocers and retailers.

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