American Express Co. has begun testing a multiple-application smart card at its New York headquarters, swelling the ranks of American financial-services companies entering the new payments arena.

The cards, with personal charge, corporate charge, and revolving functions housed on the chip, have been distributed to fewer than 50 employees at its World Financial Center offices for use in the company cafeteria.

A spokeswoman called the pilot program, which began in December, "very small" and downplayed any significance it may have for long-term smart-card strategy. But the test may be unique in its multi-application focus.

The majority of smart card pilot tests in the United States involve single, cashlike functions.

Stored-value programs are the rule inside Visa's headquarters in California and in its Atlanta Olympics experiment. The same holds true for Electronic Payment Services Inc.'s test at its headquarters in Delaware, and for Wells Fargo & Co.'s test of National Westminster Bank's Mondex technology.

Many pilot tests are using disposable cards, whose value cannot be replenished. Some companies, such as First Union Corp., plan to link the stored value application to their customers' automated teller machine cards.

Some government, military, and university smart card programs do include multiple applications on the chip.

American Express said its test will continue for several months and will then be evaluated. The company plans to test several smart card capabilities, including stored value.

American Express recently teamed up with MasterCard International to develop a smart card terminal operating system that accepts all card brands.

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