Visa's Interlink subsidiary has crossed into Minnesota by signing up two banks and merchants for its direct debit service.

First Bank System and Norwest Corp., both of Minneapolis, have connected to the Interlink Network so their customers can make purchases at participating stores with their automated teller machine cards affixed with the Interlink logo.

Mobil Oil and Byerly's supermarket chain are now accepting Interlink at their Minnesota locations. Mobil also accepts Maestro, MasterCard's on-line debit product.

Other chains in the state accepting Maestro include Fairlane's bowling alleys and Target discount stores.

To date, more than 52,000 merchants in 50 states accept Interlink, Visa says.

"This will give us access to a greater number of customers," said Sarah Jordan, manager of card products at Mobil. "Customers generally perceive ATMs as easy to use. It's a way for them to pay at the pump without having to go into the station."

Interlink said it expects other Minnesota retailers to follow suit and sign up with the network. It cites a 1993 Gallup Organization market survey indicating that more than 63% of consumers prefer simplified purchase payment options for typical items.

"Consumers feel that checks take a long time," said Janet Pruitt, a senior vice president at Interlink. "During a transaction, the average check takes between 60 and 90 seconds to process, whereas a point-of-sale purchase takes 15 to 20 seconds."

Just under 500,000 Interlink transactions are processed daily.

Approximately 30 million Americans own Interlink cards, Visa reports, from more than 490 U.S. financial institutions. The San Francisco-based association predicted 310 financial institutions will join this year.

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