Officials of Mondex, the smart card payment system developed by National Westminster Bank, London, said they do not expect the sale of Natwest's U.S. retail bank to affect Mondex's progress.

National Westminster Bancorp, the New Jersey-based subsidiary that Fleet Financial Group agreed this week to acquire for $3.26 billion, was expected to be a charter member of the Mondex U.S. franchise.

There is no assurance that Fleet will get involved in the U.S. company that would govern the introduction and issuance of the stored value cards.

Natwest Bancorp "might have played a role in a consortium of U.S. banks exploring the franchise," said Michael Keegan, Mondex's deputy chief executive officer. But he added: "Mondex is quite capable of succeeding without Natwest in the U.S."

He said Mondex is continuing talks with other U.S. banks, including Wells Fargo & Co., which began testing the system at its San Francisco headquarters in August.

Mr. Keegan said $50 billion-asset Wells Fargo, the 17th-largest U.S. banking company, is a more powerful ally than $32 billion-asset Natwest would have been.

Not discounting any business opportunity, he added: "We'd be delighted to talk to Fleet about Mondex at the appropriate time if they're interested."

With its stored-value cards, chip-reading terminals, and electronic wallets, Mondex is one of the more sophisticated approaches to automating cash. Any two people with Mondex cards and an electronic wallet can exchange funds, emulating an anonymous cash payment, but some card industry experts have criticized Mondex's lack of auditability.

Other systems, like Denmark's Danmont or VisaCash, compile records of all transactions.

The Mondex system is being tested in Swindon, England, and at Wells Fargo headquarters. A Mondex Canada test will begin in Guelph, Ontario, in 1996, led by Royal Bank of Canada and Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce. Also scheduled in 1996 is a test in Hong Kong with Mondex's Asian licensee, Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corp.

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