It seems that everyone in the smart card business wants a piece of the emerging U.S. market - and Belgium's Banksys is no exception.
The company, formed by the banking industry in Belgium to initiate a multipurpose electronic purse, is making an effort to export its system to the United States and other countries, with some success.
On a recent whirlwind tour here to drum up business, Armand Linkens, director of marketing and sales for Banksys, and his colleagues met with executives of the top U.S. banks, including Chase Manhattan Corp. and National City Corp., sources said.
Mr. Linkens said he is trying to find "key partners interested in rapidly getting our technology on board."
The system, called Proton, which began testing in two Belgian towns last February, now serves about 24,000 consumers, with $3 million loaded onto the cards and 407,000 transactions performed since then. The project is expected to go countrywide in 1996.
The Netherlands' national payment system operator, Interpay, selected the Proton system for its electronic purse pilot, to begin in October. CP8 Transac, the French card manufacturer that supplies the microprocessor chip cards to Banksys, will deliver about 100,000 cards for use in the project. Banksys will provide all terminals and transaction equipment.
Swiss Telekurs, Brazilian Mitel, and QuickLink, serving Australia, Hong Kong, and New Zealand, have purchased the rights to the Proton system.
Its most established European competitor, the Danmont system, has been live in Denmark for three years. Danmont technology will be used in the Visa Olympic smart card pilot in Atlanta next year.
Britain's Mondex, a more sophisticated scheme, with electronic wallets and chip reading screen phones, is testing in Swindon, England. It has also established a franchise in Canada, and a small-scale test began recently at the Wells Fargo Bank headquarters in San Francisco.
Mr. Linkens said Danmont uses disposable chip cards, rather than the reloadable smart cards Banksys employs. He said Mondex, with its wallets that allow the anonymous transfer of electronic money, is an unauditable system with security problems.
Tackling the U.S. market may prove more complicated for Banksys than pursuing nations around the globe. Dan A. Cunningham, president and chief executive of Gemplus Card International Corp., one of the largest suppliers of smart cards in the world, said transplanting a European system to the United States would require significant retooling.
Though the Banksys project may be large scale for Belgium, "the kind of transaction volume generated over here may be far more than the system is designed to process," said Mr. Cunningham.
He cited other back-office issues related to switching and settlement, audit trails, and government regulations. "I don't think any international system can be easily transportable to the U.S."
But Ben Miller, a consultant and publisher of Personal Identification News, said the system is "built by banks for the benefit of banks. The structure of revenues and controls is designed to be transportable," though some adjustments would be necessary.
Many advocates here see a multiapplication card that offers stored value, debit, credit, and other features such as loyalty programs.
"We don't want to run before we walk," said Mr. Linkens. He said the world is "still quite far away" from issuing the more advanced combination cards.
"What we proved in Belgium is that there is a business case for the electronic purse, which lets bankers put their hands on new technology at (little) risk."
Some industry experts have said that other business sectors, such as retailers or telecommunications companies, may take the lead in smart cards if bankers drag their feet.
"I think it's a possibility," said Mr. Cunningham. "We've seen nonbanks active in credit card issuance; the same could happen in the stored-value arena."