Pamela H. Patsley, who as president of Paymentech has been the chief architect of one of the bank card processing industry's most aggressive acquisition strategies, is leaving the company after almost a decade as its leader.

Ms. Patsley, 42, was a founding officer of former Paymentech parent First USA Inc. in 1985 and established herself as a top executive when few women ran businesses in the banking industry.

Michael P. Duffy, 40, the chief operating officer, is to succeed her. He has worked at the Dallas-based company for five years, three as second in command. The transition is expected to be completed by April 1.

"She's taken the company from a relatively small player into one of the dominant acquirers in the industry," said Marc Abbey, principal at First Annapolis Consulting in Linthicum, Md. "I have nothing but respect for Mike Duffy; I think he's going to do great."

In an interview on Friday, Ms. Patsley declined to say what might be next, except that she plans to continue working in the financial services industry, has job offers, and would like to make her decision within a few weeks. However, given last year's departures of Bank One executives Richard W. Vague and James Stewart, her former colleagues, some observers speculated that the three could reunite in some kind of venture.

"It wouldn't surprise me if those three got together," said James L. Accomando, president of Accomando Consulting Inc. in Fairfield, Conn.

Asked about the possibility of working with Mr. Vague and Mr. Stewart, Ms. Patsley said, "There are a lot of options available, and I'll just say that."

"Things are in great order," she said. "It's just the right time to move on and consider something else."

The recent turmoil at Bank One, due in large part to difficulties at its First USA credit card subsidiary, led Mr. Vague, First USA's co-founder, chairman, and chief executive, to resign in October. Mr. Stewart, a former executive vice president at First USA who later was chief executive officer and president of WingspanBank.com, Bank One's on-line bank, resigned in December. Mr. Vague, a former Paymentech chairman, did not return phone calls, and Mr. Stewart could not be reached to comment.

Ms. Patsley, chief financial officer of First USA from 1987 to 1994, took over Paymentech in 1991. Paymentech was formerly known as First USA Merchant Services. It was created in 1985 and is now the second-largest merchant processor and acquirer, by transaction count.

During her tenure, the company completed about 50 deals for merchant portfolios or businesses that brought the company new systems and technology.

Topping the list were the 1995 purchases of two of Paymentech's fiercest competitors, DMGT Corp. and Litle & Co., both New Hampshire-based processors of non-face-to-face transactions. Mr. Duffy joined Paymentech in 1995 after being chief financial officer at Litle.

"Her ability, certainly in the acquisition arena, is probably unsurpassed in this business," Mr. Duffy said.

In 1996, Paymentech bought Tampa-based Gensar Holdings Inc. - which gave the company its own front-end terminal-driving network, and in 1998, it bought Mellon Bank Corp.'s merchant processing portfolio.

She also led the company through several ownership changes - its 1996 initial public offering, a transition to majority ownership by Bank One in 1997, and its return last year to being privately held when First Data Corp. bought its outstanding shares. Bank One now owns 52.5% of Paymentech and First Data 47.5%. First Data's merchant processing venture with Bank One - Banc One Payment Services - was merged with Paymentech at the time First Data bought the Paymentech stake.

"We had some tough times in terms of assimilating some acquisitions,'' as well as of meeting analysts' growth projections, Ms. Patsley said. But "I think to the credit of everyone here, we all stuck with it and got it turned around," she added. The dollar value of transactions processed by the company jumped from $5.2 billion in 1991 to $93.3 billion in 1999.

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