Mondex conquered its fourth continent on Tuesday as four major Australian banks agreed to establish a franchise of the British smart-card system.

Australia and New Zealand Banking Group, Commonwealth Bank of Australia, National Australia Bank, and Westpac Banking Corp. - the same players involved in tests of Visa Cash and MasterCard Cash - will create a joint venture to issue Mondex cards and to lease the system to other banks.

Tim Jones, Mondex's chief executive, said there's room in the marketplace for the different smart-card programs. "It's for them to decide whether they want to continue with all the ventures," he said. "You don't embark on a franchise purchase of Mondex lightly. It's a significant investment."

The Australian banks, in cooperation with five New Zealand banks - ANZ Banking Group (New Zealand), Bank of New Zealand, Countrywide Banking Corp., National Bank of New Zealand, and ASB Bank Limited - will establish a Mondex New Zealand franchise to issue the cards there.

Jerome Svigals, a Redwood City, Calif.-based industry consultant, called the announcement "a continuation of major Mondex acceptance around the world."

The Australian bank's investment in Mondex could signal "big problems," for Visa and MasterCard, Mr. Svigals said.

The multimillion-dollar deal signifies a serious commitment by the Australian banks to Mondex, which has been gaining ground in several key markets worldwide.

The cash-replacement cards with embedded computer chips are being piloted in Swindon, England, through a joint venture with National Westminster Bank of London and Midland Bank.

Royal Bank of Canada, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, and Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corp. have purchased franchise rights, with tests scheduled for late 1996.

In the United States, Wells Fargo Inc. is testing the cash cards at its San Francisco headquarters. Wells recently filed with the Office of the Controller of the Currency to create a Mondex subsidiary in partnership with National Westminster and AT&T Universal Card Services, knowledgeable sources have said.

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