The Shared Networks Executive Association has merged into the Electronic Funds Transfer Association.

The combination is likely to give their members more clout in the development of electronic banking policies and regulations.

"This is a very important step to reposition EFTA for the future," said Wayne I. Boucher, president of the Herndon, Va.-based group.

"It's significant because the regional and national networks that were SNEA members will now contribute to our efforts, in terms of research, program development, and policy matters," Mr. Boucher said.

"The agreement reached between the two organizations will be mutually beneficial," added Stan Paur, who had been chairman of the Shared Networks group and will be chairman of EFTA's network executives council.

Shared Networks members will form the nucleus of the new council, giving them equal status with members of its electronic benefits transfer council and direct service delivery council.

"EFTA will gain more insight into network issues, while the networks will benefit by having a professional, full-time association to coordinate activities for their industry segment," said Mr. Paur, who is chief executive officer of the Houston-based Pulse EFT Association, the nation's sixth-ranked regional automated teller machine network.

Mr. Paur will also become a director of the Electronic Funds Transfer Association, bringing its board membership to 33. The board comprises a cross-section of the industry, said Mr. Boucher, with members from banks, networks, vendors, and other groups interested in the development of electronic payment systems.

"We welcome any opportunity to strengthen bank membership and influence in this organization," said Mr. Boucher. "We applaud that the networks, with their strong bank representation, are joining this organization and will help choose programs and areas to research."

The Shared Networks group, formed in 1988, had 27 members, including the two national networks affiliated with MasterCard and Visa. The group had offered network executives an opportunity to meet and exchange ideas regarding operations and other mutual concerns such as marketing and security.

It also took an active role in establishing national standards for electronic benefits transfer and in setting rules that let payment terminals print truncated account numbers on receipts.

These were accomplishments that the Electronic Funds Transfer Association also counts among its successes of the past year. "This merger is a natural fit, since we already work together on so many issues," said Kurt Helwig, senior director of government relations for EFTA.

The agenda for the first meeting of the network executives council, later this week, is wide-ranging, said Mr. Boucher. The group will discuss operational cost issues and fraud and security concerns, and it will set project priorities.

The Electronic Funds Transfer Association, while continuing to examine other potential mergers or alliances, hopes soon to launch a major statistical survey of network activity.

Mr. Boucher said the data available today are liable to error. He believes that with the networks' help, EFTA will be able to build an accurate data base.

The networks "have been a critical part of the formation of the information superhighway as it begins to facilitate commercial and financial transactions," said Robert P. Barone, chairman of the Electronic Funds Transfer Association. "Our research agenda should be strengthened because of these new relationships."

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