CyberMark Inc., a company that runs smart card systems in contained communities - mainly college campuses - is preparing to activate a Web site, www.mychipcard.com, that will let parents send money to their children at school directly through the Web, without using checks, wire transfers, or credit cards.
The students, in turn, could load the money on to their CyberMark smart cards, which serve as campus identification, stored value cards, and, sometimes, credit/debit cards. Parents could set up automatic transfers, so that a certain amount was drawn from their deposit account each month, or, because the smart cards can hold different accounts for different purposes, could designate that the money could only be spent at the bookstore.
The planned enhancement is part of CyberMark's effort to propagate smart cards through closed communities, with the hope that it will migrate from there into other corners of society. The privately held Tallahassee, Fla., company, whose principal shareholders are Huntington Bancshares and Battelle Memorial Institute (a Columbus, Ohio, technology incubator), aims to move its existing smart card and Internet-based applications to open smart card operating systems so that they can be compatible with Visa smart cards, American Express' Blue cards, and the smart card products that MasterCard International intends to introduce in the United States.
CyberMark, which was formed in 1996 by Sallie Mae, already has one million cardholders at 40 schools and has deployed 20,000 smart card terminals. The company has had some growing pains: Sallie Mae and First USA (which had bought a 10% stake in 1998 for $4 million) resigned from the board last year, and management and funding problems contributed to a drop in sales to $4.9 million in 2000 from $8 million in 1999.
But the company says it has smoothed out the problems, and now is poised to take steps that will help make smart cards more ubiquitous in the United States. It wants to sign up more schools, put more smart card terminals in merchant locations, and introduce more financial services offerings on its cards.
The mychipcard.com site, which will only transfer money out of the parent's account when the student goes to the Web to retrieve it, sprang from CyberMark's plan to convince the public that smart cards make life easier. "The Web site really changes the whole model of the business," said Bill Norwood, vice chairman of CyberMark.
Already, students can use their CyberMark smart cards to do everything from vote to pay for laundry machines and photocopiers. The company has also installed smart card systems at some corporate campuses, including those of Gemplus, AT&T, Pfizer, and Pitney Bowes.
Under a recent agreement with a company that runs 50 automobile dealerships, CyberMark has created a smart card system that tracks a car's maintenance history, so that a customer can easily take the car - and the card - to any dealership for service. "It's high-tech and the clients love it," Mr. Norwood said. "It's a new product and concept."
William M. Randle, executive vice president of e-Huntington, the technology arm of Huntington National Bank, predicts that smart card adoption will sprout from the types of communities CyberMark serves. "The Web makes a business case for smart cards," he said.