Chips in cards are not just about banking, MasterCard International president Robert W. Selander concluded after his visit last week to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
Mr. Selander, who in a panel discussion spoke about the implications of his company's Mondex smart card program and related technologies, said they are part and parcel of a broad set of advances that go far beyond finances and payments.
"The theme here is not just financial services," Mr. Selander said in an interview. "Many industries are looking at these technologies. (They are) causing changes in many industries."
To be sure, MasterCard-Mondex and their competitor, Visa, have been exploring ways to load multiple applications on chip cards. They could include loyalty-point systems, health records, driver's license information, and more, with banks and their card associations potentially at the core of the process.
Mr. Selander spoke of "lifestyle cards" that could be tailored to individual needs and desires. For him, a multinational company executive, it might include airline mileage credits or information relating to his stock portfolio; for someone else it might be gasoline-purchase credits and a mass-transit pass.
But in the gathering at Davos of more than 2,000 business and government leaders from around the world, Mr. Selander said it was clear that the smart card piqued considerable curiosity and interest in similar, but often nonfinancial, ways.
He likened the evolution of magnetic stripe cards to chip cards to "going from a horse and buggy to a space shuttle. We are making it possible for everyone to carry a computer in their pockets."
When a steel industry executive asked how the chip card could relate to his business, Mr. Selander's co-panelist, Sun Microsystems Inc. science office chief John Gage, suggested that preferences for car designs could be stored in the memory. People could communicate their specifications from the card via the Internet.
Similarly, individualized data from Levi-Strauss & Co.'s custom-fitting system for jeans could be stored on a card for future orders.
"The microprocessor would bring degrees of customization and freedom that are not just applicable to financial services," Mr. Selander said.
"What is driving a lot of these things is not just technology for technology's sake," he said. "It is what customers-both consumers and businesses-are demanding. Customers want anytime, anywhere access to everything. That requires us to make a response, and the technology facilitates that response."
Mr. Selander was the second bank card industry executive invited to address the World Economic Forum. Visa International president Edmund Jensen, whom Mr. Selander said he met at Davos last week for the first time, spoke last year. Mr. Jensen argued that banks were well positioned to maintain their payment-system role with the advent of electronic cash.
Mr. Selander said his session was more about the gee-whiz aspects of the technology than about public policy issues like privacy, which were dealt with in other sessions. Consumer privacy and data protection are major concerns in Europe.
Mr. Selander said MasterCard, his previous employer Citicorp, and "most companies I have worked with and dealt with" have privacy protection guidelines and recognize the need for prudence.
He said the bank card industry's SET-the Secure Electronic Transactions protocol for Internet payments-will contribute to the data protection cause. And chip cards can take that security to a higher level by "certifying who you are ... and giving the consumer more control" over what the card can and cannot do.