Before smart cards ever replace cash the way some bankers hope they will, banks are going to have to overcome some consumers' suspicions that they might be a dumb idea.
At least that's one way you can interpret a recent opinion poll from a bank-led trade group, the Smart Card Forum. According to the study, consumers' enthusiasm for smart cards declines when they include an electronic purse function.
Some 61% of the 1,000 consumers polled thought smart cards were a good or excellent idea. But that figure fell to 45% when those same consumers were asked how they felt about smart cards that included a stored-money function.
There is a positive spin that can be put on these results, says Bob Gilson, the Forum's executive director. Consumer interest for smart cards now - with or without stored money - is much higher than that expressed for debit cards in consumer surveys from 10 and 15 years ago. Despite that, banks have heavily promoted debit cards and turned them into a product used regularly at supermarkets and gas stations.
Whether or not the same can be done for smart cards is debatable. Gilson said consumers' lack of enthusiasm for a stored-money function stemmed in part from their uncertainty over what happens to the stored money if the card is lost or stolen. A second area of concern is consumers' desire for a receipt for every electronic transaction. Unfortunately, banks don't plan to offer this. Several bankers say it would be prohibitively expensive to print receipts for every purchase of a newspaper or a can of soda from a vending machine.
The survey indicated a much higher degree of interest if smart cards are used to calculate frequent flier or frequent shopper bonuses. There's also plenty of interest in them as substitutes for traditional bank-issued credit or debit cards.
For the time being, consumers don't mind cards that are smart. But when it comes to money, they just don't think the cards are very friendly.