After six months of watching European and Asian "firsts," America finally took its place among Internet pioneers of the Secure Electronic Transaction (SET) protocol. In pilots being conducted in early June, a number of U.S. players broke electronic commerce (EC) ground with SET purchases made at Wal-Mart's on-line store. The implication: the EC pilot in the United States is either a watershed or just a teaserodepending on who you ask. In two separate pilots, IBM Corp., First Data Resources, Chase Manhattan Bank, American Express and GTE are leading the charge in what could be the start of an avalanche of SET-enabled commerce hitting mainstream America. "We've got well over 30 banks now that have committed to pilots with IBM. Most of the world's largest banks are lining up to become SET pilots," says Scott Dueweke, marketing manager in IBM's electronic payments and certification group. "It's a juggernaut."

The IBM/Chase/First Data-Wal-Mart pilot involves 50 Chase & Wal-Mart employees. The pilot will be expanded to include about 1,000 Chase customers after SET specifications are upgraded, likely in late summer, said Gary Roboff, svp of electronic commerce at Chase. Other institutions and merchants will soon follow: "It's going to take until the latter part of the third quarter before there is a really robust implementation with any kind of scale," he adds. "You're going to see very significant increases in volume."

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