E-cash technology waits for user's green light

Widespread commercial adoption of electronic smart card cash technology in Australia is drawing closer to reality as Visa Australia moves to complete local user acceptance testing.

Two organisations, the South Australian Cricket Association and the Australian Technology Park in Sydney, are operating as Visa Cash pilot sites in partnership with local banks.

The SA Cricket Association is using St George to supply 17,000 members with a smart card incorporating membership information and re-loadable electronic cash for use at the association's fast food and bar outlets.

Meanwhile, the Australian Technology Park is partnering with the Commonwealth Bank to give an estimated 500 tenants access control and electronic cash facilities.

Daniel Jeffares, head of strategic initiatives at Visa Australasia, said ultimate widespread adoption of the technology will be determined in consultation with partners in the banking industry, Telstra, and ERG - Melbourne's transit authority.

"We know the technology works; we are [now] trailing user acceptance," Jeffares said.

Visa International is partnering with banks and technology companies worldwide to develop the smart card system designed to consolidate electronic cash, personal information and credit card facilities on one card.

The company is already conducting trials in the UK to give users the ability to download electronic cash to the cards via GSM (Global System for Mobiles) mobile phones. The Leeds, UK trial with Barclaycard is one of more than 60 smart card programs operating around the world.

To access funds, users insert the Visa Cash card into a slot in a customised Motorola StarTAC D, enter a PIN and the amount of cash to be loaded. The amount is credited to the user's Visa Cash purse and debited to the cardholder's account.

Jeffares said the system allows Visa to track all electronic transactions through a centralised settlement process.

One application is the ability to download cash to your card to pay for a parking meter, instead of searching for cash, he said.

However, while the transactions may be secure, losing your card is equivalent to losing cash. "If you lose it, you will lose the value of the cash on the card," he said.

The only security policy is the ability to redeem funds from a damaged card, Jeffares said.

The cards are not designed to impose a stored-value limit, but Jeffares said banks might impose limits of between $200 and $500 to protect users from losing cash.

The trails to date have shown users are only storing small amounts of cash, around the $30 mark, he said.

The cost of using Visa Cash depends on the pricing structures the banks implement. Jeffares indicated it will be similar to existing pricing schemes adopted for credit cards.

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More about Commonwealth Bank of AustraliaERG GroupMotorolaTelstra CorporationVisaVisa International

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