In the second deal this week in the electronic funds transfer industry, Pulse EFT Association, the nation's fourth-largest cash machine network, said Tuesday that it has agreed to buy Money Station, the 11th-largest network.

The deal was announced a day after Concord EFS Inc., a Memphis-based transaction processor and owner of the MAC network, said it would buy Star Systems Inc., the largest of the shared networks, for about $850 million in stock. Concord announced Oct. 2 that it was in talks with Star. Both moves accelerate a trend that has been playing out for several years. The industry has changed from one in which hundreds of regional entities operated independently with minimal overlap, to one in which several super-regional organizations compete against one another, coexisting with a handful of pocket networks.

The two latest network combinations are driven by vastly different strategies.

Concord, a publicly owned company that bought two other networks - MAC and Chicago-based Cash Station - in the last year and a half, is aggressively expanding its network of automated teller machines and debit card terminals.

"Our goal will be to create a national PIN-based network of point of sale and ATM transactions, and once this transaction is completed, the network's primary service area will be in 31 states, creating a coast-to-coast network," Edward A. Labry, Concord president, said during a conference call Monday.

Some industry observers say Concord may try to replace the national networks, Cirrus and Plus, which are owned by MasterCard International and Visa U.S.A., respectively. That could, in turn, light a fire under the bank card associations, which have been relatively passive about their role in electronic funds transfer.

By contrast, Houston-based Pulse and Cincinnati's Money Station say they have banded together as an alternative to the Concord model. Both are owned by financial institutions, are not-for-profit, and aim to keep bank costs down.

Pulse and Money Station would be "a unique organization in structure, pricing philosophy, and broad-based representation from all segments of the financial industry," said Stan Paur, president and chief executive officer of Pulse. His company, for instance, has taken an active role in efforts to defeat legislation proposing ATM surcharge bans.

Combined, Pulse, and Money Station have 53,500 ATMs and 313,000 point of sale terminals, most of which are in 20 core-coverage states including Tennessee, Colorado, Texas, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania.

The combined entity would represent more than 2,500 member banks. Pulse is owned by 2,100 financial institutions including Bank of America Corp., Wells Fargo & Co., and Chase Manhattan Corp. Money Station is owned by Dollar Bank, Fifth Third Bancorp., Firstar Corp., Huntington National Bancshares, and Mellon Financial Corp., but has a membership of 560 banks. A final agreement is expected in the next few weeks. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

The Concord/Star deal would create the largest ATM and debit network, with 6,800 financial institution members, 195,000 ATMs, and 800,000 point of sale terminals, according to the companies.

Dennis Lynch, the president and chief executive officer of Woodcliff, N.J.-based NYCE Corp., which would be the second-largest network once MAC and Star combine, said the mergers add pressure to an already competitive marketplace. Still, Mr. Lynch said, NYCE's mission statement "is to be the best real-time payments company; it's never stated it needed to be the biggest real-time payment company."

Mr. Lynch would not say whether NYCE, which acquired Magic Line of Dearborn, Mich., in 1999, is negotiating any deals of its own, but did not rule it out. NYCE is "always looking at opportunities just as we have in past," he said. "We don't talk about anything under way."

NYCE, whose owners include HSBC, Chase Manhattan, and Citigroup, sits somewhere between the two models as defined by the recent mergers, he said.

"We're clearly bank-owned and influenced, but we are a for-profit model," Mr. Lynch said. "We are a profitable organization; we are very well capitalized.

"I think we certainly participate in lobbying and some of the things that [Mr. Paur] works on," but "I think our emphasis more is on the constant delivery of new products and services," Mr. Lynch added. NYCE, for instance, last year developed Safe Debit, an ATM-like CD-ROM that enables PIN-activated debit transactions on the Internet.

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