Payment services companies Voca and the LINK Interchange Network today announced an intention to merge and create one of the biggest payments processors in Europe.

The combined company, to be known as VocaLINK, is forecast to handle a volume of over 8 billion transactions this year and will be able to offer a range of transactional services for both cash machines and automated payments.

Formerly known as BACS, Voca’s operations process 90% of the UK’s salaries and 15% of Europe’s automated payment volume. LINK is an international ATM-based service provider handling real-time transactions. The companies said the new tie-up will allow consumers to benefit from a reliable and secure way of transferring money between bank accounts through the BACS scheme and easy access to their funds through the LINK network.

The announcement said the companies are already working together to build the infrastructure behind the UK’s Faster Payments initiative that will deliver real-time payments to the UK market by the end of the year.

The merger is designed to create a payment processor ready to compete on a pan-European scale when the Single Euro Payments Area (SEPA) becomes a reality in 2008. SEPA aims to rationalise card payments across Europe and will impact the systems and processes of banks, payment processors and merchants accepting card payments.

The merger is subject to Office of Fair Trading approval, but once formally complete, the companies said VocaLINK will have the range of services necessary to compete in the new SEPA environment.

Complementary experience in fields such as mobile banking, international money transfer and online billing, will enable VocaLINK to offer a range of services that neither company could have developed alone, they added. And the first services from the new company will include SEPA-ready and real-time payment services designed to accelerate domestic and cross-border payments.

Current Voca chief executive, Marion King will head up the merged company drawing on her experiences since joining the company of overseeing a corporate governance restructure, the development of a new brand and commercial strategy, and the implementation of Voca’s SEPA-ready payment platform.