Dash, an automated teller machine network formed two years ago for Arkansas community banks, is branching out.

The original owners-Metropolitan National Bank and Arkansas Systems Inc., both of Little Rock-sold a one-third stake last month to First United Bancshares of El Dorado, Ark.

The companies said it was a cash deal, but would not say how much First United paid.

Dash plans to use the proceeds to expand outside the state. Owners of the network-with 145,000 cardholders and 93 ATMs-hope to double its numbers this year.

Kenneth L. Kerr, director of Dash, said the Little Rock-based network's aim is to serve banks that want to keep their processing close to home and independent of the multistate shared networks that include much bigger banks.

Dash consists of 21 Arkansas financial institutions and wants to add members in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and southern Missouri.

The Dash banks "have local, nearby, neighborly support," Mr. Kerr said. "We're in the same time zone. We all have common interests and common goals."

First United bought into Dash as "a vehicle to increase our fee income and scope of services," said John E. Burns, senior vice president and chief financial officer. He said its payment, which was not disclosed, can help "aggressively market the system in 1998."

Arkansas Systems, a software company, handles the switching and processing, using an IBM AS400 midsize computer.

Member banks pay switch fees of 10 cents per transaction, Mr. Kerr said. The Dash network does not try to undercut the competition-Pulse EFT Association of Houston, for example, charges 4.5 cents-but it emphasizes hands-on attention, Mr. Kerr said. Its representatives visit member banks and help them develop marketing plans.

Mr. Kerr is a former executive of Express Banking, an ATM network that NationsBank Corp. acquired along with its purchase last year of Boatmen's Bancshares of St. Louis. NationsBank then sold the network to Honor Technologies Inc. of Maitland, Fla.

Another of Dash's attractions, Mr. Kerr said, is a surcharge-free alliance. Banks can levy fees on customers from banks outside the network, while Dash members' customers do not pay extra.

"The main thing is we wanted to be locally owned and operated," Mr. Kerr said.

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