Visa to offer new kind of card

Visa is preparing for the arrival of so-called 'infomoney' that will allow consumers to do more than make virtual payments in the future.

Visa is preparing for the arrival of so-called "infomoney" that will allow consumers to do more than make virtual payments in the future, Visa USA head Carl Pascarella says. "Infomoney" will have a combination of financial data and personal information, including things like medical and employment records, he said in a keynote at the Internet & Electronic Commerce Conference.

The new cards will have embedded chips that will replace the magnetic strips on existing cards. Rather than just verifying the information, the magnetic chips will contain the data itself, Pascarella says. "The challenge is to exchange infomoney over open networks, with the same reliability" as it is exchanged now over closed, proprietary networks that banks use today, he says.

Visa has pilot projects using so-called "smartcard" technology in the US, Argentina, Australia, Canada, Colombia and Spain.

Pascarella says banks and customers will decide what information will be stored on the chips embedded on a user's card.

For the Boeing Employees Credit Union in Seattle, the biggest concerns are ease of access for users to online systems and security, Patricia Smith, vice-president of operations at the credit union, said after Pascarella spoke.

She says the credit union offers home banking, online loan applications, information on checking accounts and the ability to transfer funds as well as credit cards to its 202,000 members. All of the services are conducted over a proprietary network, but will move to the Internet by the end of the year, she says.

Security is not the only concern. Many companies that want to conduct online business with their customers and suppliers are worried about the cost, says Greg Post, a managing associate with Coopers & Lybrand LLP in Dallas. Many of his clients are retail companies that are entering the online transactions market initially by making human resource and personnel information available on intranets, he says.

"Everyone's very cautious right now," he says. "They're just now recovering from failed client-server projects."

Online transaction systems are not cheap and don't reduce a company's overhead, he says. One thing that client-server systems lacked, and will be needed for electronic transactions, is management software for internal management, he says.

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