SPS Payment Systems Inc. announced it has signed a contract with Harris Trust and Savings Bank of Chicago to provide merchant processing services.

The SPS-Harris Trust alliance furthers a trend in which banks are hooking up with third parties to offer processing while maintaining their merchant businesses. For example, NationsBank Corp. recently teamed up with Nabanco, while First Data Corp. has aligned with U.S. Bancorp and Norwest.

As part of the long-term contract with Harris, SPS will handle electronic point of sale authorization and sales draft capture for credit card, debit card, and check-processing transactions, and for custom merchant solutions.

Harris Trust will continue processing the settlement of transactions between its merchants and the cardholders. The bank currently serves about 20,000 merchants.

"This adds to our processing and clearing business," said Kenneth Keck, an executive vice president at Harris Trust, who insisted the bank "won't stop doing anything we're already doing.

"This is another branch on our tree of relationships. The core of our own processing remains intact."

The program will be up and running in about two months, said Jean Fargo, a SPS spokeswoman.

SPS had previously limited its sales efforts to servicing the needs of regional and national retailers. Now the company wants to expand its services to include financial institutions.

SPS, the principal operating subsidiary of SPS Transaction Services Inc., offers electronic processing of credit and debit card transactions and customized outsourcing solutions such as private label credit card programs, dispatch services, and software technical support.

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