MasterCard Inc. has developed a prepaid card that can be loaded with multiple currencies, each stored in a separate account.
Travelers can use it to make purchases with euros in Germany and yen in Japan. However, it is not available in the United States, and analysts say it is unlikely ever to be.
Commonwealth Bank of Australia began issuing the card last year, the first financial company to do so, and MasterCard said several banks in Europe are testing it now.
Commonwealth's Travel Money card lets users lock in an exchange rate at the time it is loaded and can hold up to six separate "purses." It can hold up to $25,000 Australian dollars, or the equivalent in any of six major currencies.
The Sydney financial company sells the cards for $14.57, and users are charged $3.40 to make withdrawals at automated teller machines.
A spokesman for the bank said that customers are typically people who are visiting other countries, including the United States.
Laura Kelly, the group executive of MasterCard's global prepaid solutions, said the card lets travelers make purchases in local currencies and avoid paying international transaction fees. It also offers convenience, she said.
"It has gotten a lot of traction recently because of its portability," Kelly said. "You know how people used to go to the airport travel desk, and they went to get pounds or euros. Now you can load however much you want, in terms of value, in a different currency, and then have that secure, and then you can go."
Visa Inc. also offers a multi-currency prepaid card, a spokeswoman said.
In New Zealand, the New Zealand Post and Kiwibank introduced a Visa Loaded for Travel card in June. It lets travelers load up to five different currencies — the U.S., New Zealand and Australian dollars; the euro and the pound.
No U.S. financial company is offering or testing the card, the spokeswoman said. Analysts said U.S. consumers are unlikely to be interested.
"To have multiple purses of currency — it's interesting, yes. But I still don't see the major tipping point for consumers to adopt," said Adil Moussa, an analyst at Aite Group in Boston. "It's not that it's not a good idea. But there are a lot of good ideas, as long as they really do serve a purpose."
Today, U.S. travelers can buy prepaid foreign currency cards loaded with a single currency, though it's not clear how much use they get. One potential market — American students studying abroad — might seem like a good fit, but the directors of several study-abroad programs said they have never encouraged students to use the cards, and some had never heard of them.
Travelex Currency Services Inc. is one of the top distributors of prepaid currency card. It operates in airports and has about 180 retail sites in the U.S.
Maria Brusilovsky, Travelex's North American communications manager, said the London company is working on a multi-purse currency card.
"It's in the pipeline," she said. "We will have a multi-currency card by the end of next year."
One reason there aren't more issuers of the cards is the scale needed to produce a profit, said MasterCard's Kelly. "That's not an insignificant challenge," she said.
The multi-currency prepaid card niche is "growing because people are much more mobile, and individuals are going to places," said Kelly of the market outside the U.S. Travelers "like the idea of being sure of what the currency conversion is going to be at the beginning of the trip."