Though he represents one of the most influential and powerful of technology companies, Coley Clark delivered a decidedly low-tech message to the congressional "future of money" hearing last week.
Mr. Clark, corporate vice president of Electronic Data Systems Corp. and group executive for the financial industry, was a solitary voice amid otherwise unbounded optimism about emerging electronic payment alternatives.
While he said he is all for experimentation and foresight, he added, "It is important that we separate fact from fiction, reality from hyperbole."
He has concluded that the answer to many questions about consumer acceptance of electronic innovations is "not any time soon."
"The technology is available for all these things to occur," he said, referring to the smart cards and on-line Internet banking that were subjects of the House Banking subcommittee hearing. "But we should be careful about how fast we think they will take off."
He noted that 25 years after it was first talked about, the checkless society is nowhere in sight, and electronic bill-payment services are still generating check payments. It took 20 years for automated teller machines to gain widespread acceptance. Ten years since the first PC banking services, only perhaps 1% of U.S. households use them.
"True, consumer behavior will probably change faster as the Nintendo generation comes of age," Mr. Clark said. "But we still have a ways to go."
Rep. Michael Castle challenged Mr. Clark's "different slant," pointing to the highly successful "multicard" at 30,000-student Florida State University that incorporates identification, college administrative needs, payment services, and other uses. Florida State official Bill Norwood described the program at the hearing; its magnetic stripe cards are about to be enhanced with computer chips.
Mr. Clark replied that such a system works well in that "closed society," particularly given its youthfulness.
"Look at the average American. ... It will take some time before we replace the things they are doing now," he said.
"People want choices. The banking industry and technology companies like ours are making investments now to make sure we are ready and have the technology available when the time comes."