In a deal that could be the first step in building its own bill-payment service, Fiserv has agreed to purchase BillMatrix, which provides customers with a way to make last-minute payments.

Norm Balthasar, Fiserv's COO, said in an interview Thursday that the Brookfield, Wis.-based technology outsourcing vendor already offers online banking software but has relied on other vendors for bill-payment technology. However, he hinted that the deal could form the foundation of Fiserv's own payment service.

"This is one area where we have not directly participated in, in bill payment," he said. "As we add other bill-payment pieces, we will probably focus these around the BillMatrix business unit."

BillMatrix has direct connections with billers to process same-day payments. Analysts say that only a few other vendors offer this capability, though one is CheckFree, the No. 1 provider of bill-pay services and technology. They said that Fiserv could make BillMatrix the centerpiece of a bill-pay service, which it could offer to its online banking customers and which would match CheckFree's same-day capability.

Fiserv said Wednesday it would pay $350 million for the Dallas-based payment technology vendor. The deal is expected to close this quarter and would be accretive to earnings next year and neutral this year.

BillMatrix, which has marketed its payment service only to billers, has more than 120 customers, mostly utilities, telephone companies, insurance companies, and lenders. It uses the direct connections to let consumers get immediate credit when paying their monthly bills, either through a Web site or over the phone.

Richard K. Crone, the founder of Crone Consulting of San Carlos, Calif., said BillMatrix's same-day service "absolutely" rivals CheckFree's.

"It is vital to the business to be able to provide same-day posting capabilities," he said.

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