If Tim Jones has his way, he'll be embarking on a new job a year from now.

By then, Mr. Jones will have been working almost six years on Mondex, one of the more radical ideas to come down the banking pike in recent years, but one that hasn't nearly turned the corner of commercial success.

As Mr. Jones sees it, the smart-card-based, "global alternative to cash" will be well on its way to viability in 1996.

"It will be the right time to move on," said Mr. Jones, who spent much of the last year globetrotting and proselytizing on Mondex's behalf.

It is hard to tell which is bolder - the Mondex concept, which emerged from a research and development project at National Westminster Bank in London spearheaded by Mr. Jones; or his assumption about how far along it will be by next year.

He can point to substantive accomplishments, confounding long odds and skepticism.

Big-name technology vendors like AT&T, British Telecom, Hitachi, and Texas Instruments are on board, and others are attracted to Mondex's published technical specifications. Their involvement ensures a supply of the silicon chips, plastic cards encasing them, pay telephones, and other devices necessary for the storage and transfer of value on and between the cards and their accompanying "electronic wallets."

The venture has signed one major licensee - Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corp. - and Mr. Jones says a U.S. franchise, with strong backing from prominent domestic banks, is nearing formation.

A sizable market trial will begin in the British city of Swindon, population 170,000, in the second half of this year. Natwest and Midland Bank, which happens to be a Hongkong Bank affiliate, are co-owners of Mondex U.K., the British franchise responsible for the test.

But the job is obviously not done, and won't be within a year or even five years. Out to change habits and methods ingrained over centuries, Mr. Jones has spoken in terms of a 15- to 20-year development cycle.

Despite pride of authorship - he shares the invention credit with a Natwest credit card group colleague, Graham Higgins - Mr. Jones is content to let others see the program through.

A new assignment within Natwest would give the hard-charging 40-year-old a chance to make up for lost time with his family and put his payment- system and technology skills to work in other ways.

"I have an interest in doing some other things," Mr. Jones said in a recent interview. "And I think Derek Wanless (group chief executive at National Westminster Bank) has things he'd like for me to take on in our retail bank."

But the Mondex project has been nothing if not meticulously planned. That is one reason why Mr. Jones has a promising future at Natwest, which has thrown tens of millions of dollars at Mondex and its marketing; and why few may question his conviction to change jobs.

Until he does, Mr. Jones will continue to personify Mondex, preaching its supposed virtues and answering the persistent questions and criticisms.

Mr. Jones describes Mondex as the functional equivalent of cash, transferable and accountable - or not accountable - in exactly the same way. It is very much unlike physical cash in that it can store up to five currencies at once.

Aside from having to prove the technology under market conditions and establish a global chain of Mondex franchises, Mr. Jones faces repeated questioning in the areas of regulation and security.

He has spent time walking central bankers through the system and has received what he views as positive feedback, but no regulatory authority has yet given Mondex a full go-ahead. Mr. Jones says he is confident that as Mondex plays out, it will reveal itself to be "real cash," just as controllable by monetary authorities as physical cash, yet holding broad appeal to the public, as market research has indicated.

Amid growing concern about personal privacy and the integrity of electronic commerce systems, security questions seem to be more insistent, at least for the moment. Mondex has taken its share of potshots from potential competitors and computer scientists, but Mr. Jones insists his flanks are covered.

"Our planning assumption has been that the chip is not secure," he said, so Mondex and its partners set out to armor-plate it.

Because of the sensitivity of the subject and the need for competitive secrecy, Mr. Jones has made few security details public. He is a bit more forthcoming now that Natwest's five years of effort and multiple rewrites of application software have erected "a lot of barriers to entry."

He points to clean bills of health from security consultants who have put Mondex through its paces, and to an agreement with Hitachi Ltd. to manufacture a more secure breed of computer chip.

Mr. Jones says Mondex has been wrongly vilified for being able to handle transactions of any size, rather than the $20 or less typical of other electronic purse and prepaid card programs. In practice, he said, Mondex cards will have value limits, and the system enables issuers to manage risks by designating as many as 255 classes of purses, each with its own set of rules and protocols.

"There is no such thing as perfect security," Mr. Jones said. "It's a management judgment on adequacy. To have a company like British Telecom, which is expert in data security and cryptography, saying they are entirely comfortable with Mondex was very important to us."

MasterCard and Visa, with prepaid and smart card ambitions of their own, have stated both technical and competitive objections to Mondex. They oppose Mondex transactions' lack of audit trail - part of its cash analog, another criticism Mr. Jones contends is overblown - and see low-value purse transactions as an adjunct to their credit and debit offerings.

"We're not saying Mondex is competitive, just different," said Mary Buckley, a Visa International vice president.

Mr. Jones, in fact, is increasingly talking up a "complementarity" that preserves a role for all the existing alternatives in their respective niches. He also sees a role for Mondex in making immediate, computerized electronic payments "on the net" - a more futuristic avenue the bank card groups and others are exploring.

"People are going to want transferability and, in a global world, one currency won't be enough," Mr. Jones said. "I don't know anyone else with transferable electronic money like Mondex is."

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