SAN FRANCISCO - Visa International said last week that its member financial institutions have issued 42 million Visa-branded smart cards worldwide.

Europe continues to dominate Visa smart card growth, with some 34 million cards, followed by the Asia Pacific region, with six million. The other cards were issued in the United States, Latin America, Central and Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.

"When we last audited our smart card figures two years ago, we had 23 million smart cards worldwide," said Gaylon Howe, executive vice president of consumer product platforms at Visa. "We have now nearly doubled that figure, and the pace of growth will only accelerate as more financial institutions begin to use chip technology."

In the European Union, Visa has committed to investing $151 million to accelerate the introduction of chip-card technology.

In the United States, Visa U.S.A. Inc. has launched its Smart Visa program to enable banks to offer added security, utility, and convenience to consumers and businesses. Three U.S. banking companies - the First USA division of Bank One Corp., FleetBoston Financial Corp., and Providian Financial Corp. - are issuing the new smart cards.

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