Thomas M. Bass, chief executive officer of the Exchange regional automated teller machine network, announced that he will be leaving the company - for an extended exploration of the South Pacific on his sailboat.

In April, the Exchange entered into a strategic alliance with Electronic Data Systems Corp., in which the two organizations will form a venture to address the electronic funds transfer business in 13 western states.

Mr. Bass, 53, plans to stay until the completion of the EDS/Exchange deal, which is expected by the end of the year.

The company, which was the nation's first shared network of ATMs when it was formed in 1972, has started its search for a replacement and expects to name one by the end of the year.

"What I do best is build stuff," said Mr. Bass. "I need a job where I'm in direct control of the programming and operations. With the joint venture, EDS is going to be handling all of that."

As a part of the new venture, EDS' electronic funds transfer unit will take over the transaction switching and processing, as well as other operational responsibilities.

"And besides," Mr. Bass added, "I've been doing this for 18 years. I need a break."

During Mr. Bass' tenure at the Exchange, the company grew from a single ATM site in Bellevue, Wash., to the nation's eighth-largest regional network, linking customers to about 4,000 ATM sites and 18,000 point of sale terminals.

At the same time, Mr. Bass gained a reputation in electronic banking circles for innovation and creativity. He also became known as a man who spoke his mind.

"The industry may be losing one of its most colorful figures," said Paul Schmelzer, vice president of Milwaukee's Deluxe Data and former chairman of the Electronic Funds Transfer Association.

"He's a different kind of person, always has been," said a consultant who asked for anonymity. "He's been talking about pursuing other interests for over a year now. And, hell, who wouldn't want to sail around the South Pacific?"

Since early 1994, the Exchange had been looking for a business partner to help build its business. Visa International had expressed interest, as had Star System Inc., the Exchange's southern neighbor and, by some measures, the largest regional network in the country.

The Exchange spurned both those offers and decided on an alliance with EDS, an aggressive deployer of ATMs that is expected to surpass BankAmerica Corp. as the nation's No. 1 ATM owner by next month. EDS also handles core transaction switching services for Chicago's Cash Station, the nation's 16th-largest regional network, and several smaller networks.

Under the terms of the alliance, the new venture will be controlled 50% by EDS and 50% by Exchange owner banks. All of EDS's EFT activity in 13 western states will join Exchange's existing business as the basis of the new organization's business.

"We are not really creating a new network; we are creating a new processing entity," said Mr. Bass. "All of our processing activity and all of EDS's processing activity in the 13 states will be driven from a processing site out here in the West."

Because EDS will be handling the operations, the Exchange board is said to be looking for a person with more customer relations experience and less hands-on operational background than Mr. Bass has.

"Tom's leadership has helped the Exchange strengthen and grow into a transaction powerhouse," said Michael Peters, chairman of the Exchange board and executive vice president of First Interstate Bank. "With the company headed for such a productive relationship with EDS, we'd like to thank Tom for his work to get us here."

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