Back when Janet S. Crane was chief executive officer of Mondex U.S.A., she did a lot of cheerleading for the smart card industry and for Mondexs stored value technology.
But lately, she has been sounding pretty dubious about smart cards. Ms. Crane, who is now CEO of the online payments firm Billpoint Inc., told the Smart Card Forum in September that she thought smart cards were way too far behind. Last week, at a Cardtech/Securtech conference in Washington, she sounded positively dismissive.
Three years ago, I would have been pushing for smart cards on the Internet, said Ms. Crane, whose company is owned by eBay Inc. and Wells Fargo & Co. You can get real identity authentication, you can have stored value. But now that I am at eBay, I am less enthused.
The problem, Ms. Crane said, is a lack of infrastructure to support widespread consumer use of smart cards online.
I cant conceive how I can get 19 million card readers out there, she said, referring to the number of eBays registered users. They will be wonderful, but we think that it is years away.
Ms. Crane said American Express Co.s success with its chip-embedded Blue card was only a start. It is the same problem as the Visa card, she said. They got it out to a couple million users, but only 2,000 are eBay users.
Billpoint, of San Jose, Calif., began offering online person-to-person credit card payments in March and online check payments a few months later. Ms. Crane said Billpoint will introduce a new payment product early next year, but she would not give specifics.
For the past year, Billpoint has focused on facilitating online payments for buyers and sellers on eBays auction Web site. Ms. Crane said that Wells Fargo, which took a 35% stake in Billpoint, gave eBay the ability to let auction participants pay one another with credit cards or checking account transfers.
Ms. Crane said eBay users are not entirely satisfied with either payment method. Online merchants are unhappy with paying approximately 2% of their take for credit card fees, she said, and buyers in auctions are uneasy about giving out their checking account numbers online.
The answer is not smart cards for stored value, but a more old-fashioned solution, said Ms. Crane.
We are keen to let people use an ATM card on the Internet, she said. But Billpoints new payment product will not be an ATM card, she said, because the company has not been able to work out problems related to putting personal identification numbers online.
I am going out to some of the people who can help big processors and big financial institutions, she said. If someone can come out with those products, we will be happy to launch.
Ms. Crane said that the products had to offer enhanced security, and said such products were slow to launch on eBay because of the companys concern with safety.
My job is to say, No, we are not ready; our challenge is to take the time to do it right, she said.