In MasterCard International's worldwide search for people to propel it into the next generation of smart card technology, two well-known names stood out among the elite few who are considered experts in the field.
The New York-based association landed Robin Townend, 45, from Barclays Bank in London; and Diane Wetherington, 34, who took AT&T's smart card program from an embryonic stage to a full-fledged business.
Mr. Townend, known as much for his valuable collection of some 6,000 payment and telephone cards as for his technical expertise, was named senior vice president, chip card technology. Ms. Wetherington's title is senior vice president, chip card business/marketing.
"Bringing in people at this level certainly sends a signal to the industry that they're very serious about chip card technology," said Ronald A. Braco, senior vice president of Chemical Bank. He worked closely with Ms. Wetherington at AT&T and within the Smart Card Forum, a multi-industry group that aims to promote market tests of cards enhanced with computer-chip memories.
Neither MasterCard nor Visa International are strangers to cards with computer chips, having tested various versions in the 1980s. For a number of reasons, the associations delayed pushing chip card technology until it became clear that financial institutions were interested.
In December, MasterCard, its European partner Europay International, and Visa agreed to work together on standards for chip cards.
The industry focus has broadened from fraud prevention to putting multiple functions on a card.
"It's very, very new emerging technology," said MasterCard executive vice president Philip P. Verdi. In February, MasterCard hired Andrew Tarbox, as vice president card technology, to concentrate on the standards initiative.
Then MasterCard looked for someone who understood the technology inside and out -- Mr. Townend, who joins the association July 5 -- and someone familiar with the marketing and business sides -- Ms. Wetherington, who started June 6.
"There are not a lot of people that have the kinds of knowledge Diane and Robin have," Mr. Verdi said. "They are top-class. We had to be in that environment if, in fact, the chip was going to play some role for MasterCard as we move forward."
Ben Miller, who edits the newsletter Personal Identification News, said MasterCard's appointments reflect a major commitment to smart cards.
"This is definitely the point where they say, 'We're here to play,'" Mr. Miller said. "It's the most aggressive thing MasterCard could have done."
Meanwhile, he noted, Visa has assigned a number of people to smart cards. Among them is Visa veteran Einar Asbo, senior vice president of technical research, and Pete Hill, senior vice president in payment technology. Another Visa research and development official, Jean McKenna, is vice chairman of the Smart Card Forum.
Visa recently named Anne L. Cobb, based at its Europe-Middle East-Africa headquarters in London, general manager of a European product development office, focusing initially on chip card opportunities.
Ms. Wetherington joined MasterCard after 11 years with AT&T. For the last three she was president of Smart Card Systems and Solutions, responsible for research and development, sales, product management and manufacturing.
Mr. Townend moves to New York next month after 27 years at Barclays Bank in various management positions. Most recently as senior research manager, he was responsible for the development of Barclays' smart card strategy.
"Robin is one of the best-known international professionals in the smart card field," Mr. Miller said.
Mr. Townend has written and spoken about smart cards extensively. The thrust of his message remains consistent: "It's important that we're not technology-led but business-led."
Because he has enmeshed himself in the field, Mr. Townend projects a clear picture of the future -- one filled with a number of emerging technologies. "I see the common platform as the smart card."
His passion for the technology has led him over the years to assemble an assortment of cards with all types of data-encoding systems, including magnetic stripes, chips, and optical technologies. Many are rare and valuable prepaid cards, which are at the center of a collectibles craze.
Mr. Townend hopes to add a MasterCard chip card to his collection.