Amex, Visa, Banksys, ERG announce "VHS of e-cash"

American Express, Banksys, ERG, and Visa International have become shareholders in the newly formed Proton World International (PWI), a company that will continue the development and licensing of Proton smartcard electronic purse applications. A Visa spokesman claims the debate about standards is now over: 'We are the VHS of the electronic purse world.'

American Express , Banksys, ERG, and Visa International have become shareholders in the newly formed Proton World International (PWI), a company that will continue the development and licensing of Proton smartcard electronic purse applications, the companies have announced in Brussels.

The financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Proton smart card technology was developed by Banksys, the Belgian operator of Bancontact/Mister Cash debit and Proton electronic purse transactions. It is jointly owned by the Belgian banks. Banksys, which had been developing and marketing Proton electronic purse technology, is spinning-off the technology arm of its company and bringing in American Express, Visa and ERG to form the new PWI.

An electronic purse is an application that runs on a chip. It is used for making very low-value purchases at shops, vending machines, and pay phones or it can be used for electronic commerce.

There are roughly 70 million smart cards with electronic purse applications being used throughout Europe now, said Jon Prideaux, executive vice president for new products for Visa International in Europe. Of those, 30 million are Proton electronic purse cards which are accepted at 200,000 terminals in 15 countries, including Australia, Belgium, the Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland. Each month in Belgium, more than 2.3 million electronic purse transactions are performed using Proton-based cards.

"Practically every country in Europe has electronic purses. They will start to become interoperable, towards the end of next year," said Prideaux.

PWI will support and use the Common Electronic Purse Specifications (CEPS) being defined by a working group headed by Visa. These standards, if implemented, should ensure interoperability of electronic purses worldwide. Currently, there are roughly 20 competing technologies, said Prideaux, which slows the uptake of electronic purses.

"If there was any debate about what the electronic purse standard was going to be, it's over now," said Prideaux. "We are the VHS of the electronic purse world." The new company also will support Java as an application programming interface for smart card development.

The company also announced that Proton-based cards will support the euro. Cardholders will be able to make purchases denominated in euros without having their cards re-issued.

Proton World, in Belgium, can be found on the World Wide Web at http://www.protonworld.com/.

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