The Dutch payment systems company Interpay Nederland has become the fifth shareholder of Proton World International.

Interpay, a bank-owned utility, operates the Chipknip smart card program, the largest running on the Proton technology that has been licensed in 15 countries.

The organization now shares ownership with American Express Co., Banksys of Belgium, ERG Ltd. of Australia, and Visa International.

Percentage shares and equity amounts have not been disclosed since the four charter owners announced the formation of Proton World in Brussels in late July. Industry sources said Banksys, a bank-owned payment network operator in Belgium much as Interpay is in the Netherlands, retained a majority interest. The company has said only that it intends to reduce the percentages as shareholders are added.

The small number of shareholders prompted some skepticism when Proton World International, or PWI, was formed. Rumors had raised expectations that the consortium would be bigger from the start.

But since then, PWI and Visa have rallied support for the Common Electronic Purse Specifications, or CEPS, that would allow chip-cards to be interchangeable across borders-particularly important with the coming of the common European currency, the euro.

The multinational payments association Europay International, despite being partly owned by MasterCard International and endorsing the Mondex- Multos operating approach that has been opposed by Visa, announced its support last month for CEPS.

At about the same time, Europay said it agreed to assist Interpay Nederland in making the Chipknip card compatible with chip-card programs in other countries.

Interpay could break the ice for other new PWI members, and its size alone is seen as significant.

The 12 million Chipknip cards are about one-third of those in all Proton programs, which grew out of an original nationwide implementation in neighboring Belgium. Interpay Nederland reports more than 100,000 card- acceptance points, about half of Proton's global total.

Interpay's addition could be "the foundation of a new, solid basis to realize together projects based on Proton technology," said Herman Agneessens, chairman of Banksys. "The experience of the Netherlands with a national rollout of smart cards will contribute in a positive manner to the further development of smart cards in Europe."

"All issuers and users of Proton-based cards will benefit," said PWI managing director Armand Linkens. Proton has the advantage of acceptance in several national programs, he said, adding that its "key position in the market and its promising prospects keep attracting new investors."

PWI said its "euro-readiness" is also important. To demonstrate that, Mr. Linkens recently loaded euros from an automated teller machine to a card he had been using to make electronic cash payments in Belgian francs. He then made a euro payment at a retail terminal, which displayed the amount in francs and euros.

Mr. Linkens said Proton cardholders will be able to make euro purchases before the new notes and coins are introduced in about three years. He sees Proton "facilitating the introduction of the euro into our daily lives."

Separately, PWI said it had successfully completed a multiple- application project with Belgacom, Belgium's national telecommunications company. The technology allows for a calling card service, payments with the Proton card's electronic purse, cash reloading, and balance-checking.

The chips in the cards can also handle a customer-loyalty application, which Belgacom may later use.

Mr. Linkens said it was a complex project involving cooperation with Belgacom, the pay-telephone provider Ascom Monetel, and network provider Alcatel.

PWI said it has pay-phone applications working in Mexico and the Netherlands and that several phone vendors are integrating the technology with their systems.

Proton said its networks have handled 50 million transactions since 1995. Volume through the first nine months of 1998 was up 80% from the year earlier.

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