3 ATM NETWORKS IN TALKS FOR FULL INTERCONNECTION THIS YEAR

MANILA
, May 10 , 2004
 (STAR)
By Ted P. Torres -  Operators of the three major automated teller machine (ATM) networks are working towards operational interconnection within the year, thus moving closer to undertaking one of the most important mergers in the country’s banking system.

"Interconnection is the first step," Ricardo R. Chua, Bancnet president, told reporters last week.

Chua said the merger of the three network operators is "being explored" but that it will take a little more time. There is a good chance that the interconnection of all ATM machines will be achieved within the year, he added.

Megalink chairman Raul de Mesa said there are ongoing informal talks in that direction. "But there is still nothing to report to the public," he added.

Aside from BancNet and Megalink, another ATM operator is Expressnet. The three networks combine for roughly 4,839 ATMs nationwide and 14.1 million ATM cardholders as of mid 2003.

Since last year, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) has been urging the three operators to merge as this will result in greater operational efficiencies and lower operational costs. For the banking public, a three-way interconnection will increase deposit and withdrawal convenience, as depositors will have access to all ATM networks nationwide.

At present, Megalink is the only ATM switch with inter-network connections to both Expressnet and Bancnet. That means Megalink cardholders should have access to all 4,839 ATMs.

Expressnet cardholders can access their accounts through Megalink ATMs but not through Bancnet machines. Likewise, Bancnet ATM cardholders can access their accounts through Megalink machines but not through Expressnet ATMs.

Operators said most of the hardware and software are generally compatible although "a lot of work will still be required to get in going."

The biggest network is Expressnet operating a total of 1,680 machines or roughly 34 percent of total ATMs. Bancnet is the largest ATM consortium with 25 bank members while Megalink has 21 member banks.

Megalink has the largest number of cardholders with 6.7 million, Bancnet 3.9 million, and Expressnet 3.5 million.

All expanded commercial banks (EKBs) and commercial banks (KBs) are ATM members including a large number thrift and development banks (TBs). Last year, rural banks (RBs) have started to join the networks.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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