SAN FRANCISCO - Providian Financial Corp. will announce today that it is introducing a smart card product, the Providian Visa with Smart Technology.

Starting this month the card will be made available "by invitation only" through a direct mailing to customers who would normally qualify for platinum cards. Eventually, Providian says, it will issue the card "to all creditworthy individuals across the spectrum," said Bill Buchanan, senior vice president of Providian.

Providian's smart card, which will be issued in translucent blue-gray plastic and have a magnetic stripe in addition to a chip, will be the second mass-market credit card product with a microprocessor chip in the United States. American Express Co.'s Blue card, which came out last year, was the first.

Providian says its card will eventually function as a telephone calling card, an e-ticket, and in other ways, but at first the chip will only be useful for Internet authentication, which is the same application that the Blue card offers. The first 50,000 people to apply for the Providian product will get free smart card readers and software to hook up to their personal computers; subsequent customers will have to pay $19.95 for the setup.

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