Europay International, the European payments association that has been one of the more vocal proponents of smart cards, has put its words into action with one of the most ambitious electronic purse proposals of any banking group.
Announcing a multinational, multicurrency system Thursday, Europay officials claimed the lead in the race against other chip card promoters, including MasterCard International, which is a part-owner of the European group.
As described to some 1,500 people attending a biennial Europay members' convention, the product, named Clip, has many of the qualities that MasterCard, Visa, and smaller groups of financial institutions have developed or tested in various countries. Europay said it is the first to put them all together in one package that can operate in multiple countries.
"What we have is, simply, what others are claiming to have," said Ron H. Williams, director and chief executive officer of Europay, which is based in Waterloo, Belgium.
The European group has been a self-styled champion of the chip. Created from the merger of the Eurocard and Eurocheque associations in 1992, Europay was not directly involved in the French banks' pioneering adoption of the technology in the 1980s.
In 1994, ahead of MasterCard and Visa, Europay formally made a long-term commitment to the chip, with the "migration" now scheduled to take place from 1997 to 2002. But until the Clip announcement, Europay was on the sidelines as single-country programs, such as Danmont in Denmark and National Westminster Bank's aggressive Mondex card and purse, gained the advantage.
Adding credibility to Clip is the fact that banks or associations in Italy, Iceland, and the Czech Republic already said they would integrate the Europay system in their electronic purses. An official of Austria Card, a chip card venture of that country's central bank, strongly hinted it will follow suit.
Ahead of any other such ventures, Clip incorporates the next, still- unpublished iteration of the EMV technical standards, or EMV-3, the chip card interoperability principles that Europay developed with MasterCard and Visa.
EMV-3 is due for completion by the end of June. "If we have a leg up, why not use it?" said Mr. Williams. "We quite definitely have an edge on others that want to be EMV compatible. Ours has it. Others' don't."
Europay is promoting its system as a boon to banks that want to deliver multiple applications on a single card - debit, credit, purse functions, and even loyalty points can be integrated - and as a solution to retailers' cash-handling inefficiencies.
Mondex is unlikely to be one of those, having been built on a nonstandard technology with a combination of functions, such as the ability to transfer funds anonymously between cardholders for which Mr. Williams has open disdain.
Mr. Williams called person-to-person payments and unauditability "dangerous." For central bankers, Clip would fully satisfy those concerns.