G. Henry Mundt 3d thinks he has a pretty good idea what the future holds,and he believes he's ready for it. No, he's not a crystal-ball gazer or a tarot-card reader. But Mr. Mundt, chief executive officer of Cirrus System Inc., is a fascinated reader of people, especially their habits and preferences. And that's why he says heading up his global network of automated teller machines puts him in an enviable position. In December, Mr. Mundt will also become responsible for MasterCard International's global debit services group. The 40-year-old executive expects the new responsibilities to be both challenging and fun. He cited the growth of electronic commerce, direct banking initiatives, and the increasing interest in home banking and bill payment projects as proofs of interesting times to come in the financial services business. "I think we're going to see a proliferation of users of these types of services - soon," said Mr. Mundt, a 12-year veteran at Cirrus. "We will make sure we are providing the gateways to these services." Taking a break from a series of global board meetings for MasterCard International, Cirrus, and Maestro, the card association's on-line global debit brand, Mr. Mundt shared his vision in an interview.

Q.: Where is Cirrus heading?

MUNDT: Well, we're moving to New York. We'll be joining MasterCard in its new offices (in Purchase, N.Y., a suburban town in Westchester County, just northeast of New York City).

This move will give us the opportunity to have more global coordination with MasterCard and Maestro.

Q.: And after the move?

MUNDT: Cirrus will continue to be in a growth mode for the next several years.

In the United States, where we have very good penetration already, we will continue to increase usage and also look at other opportunities to promote the brand.

Q.: Like what?

MUNDT: Our members are looking at cobranding of debit. Another thing we're seeing is interest in corporate payroll ATM accounts or corporate expense management accounts that are linked to an ATM card. The studies that have been done on the expense of cutting checks or giving out cash advances show that it's a very costly way of delivering these services.

With the card, the corporation controls the expense by only depositing into the account the amount of money the employee can spend.

We are not talking about credit cards here because we are not talking about establishing a line of credit. We're talking about issuing cards that are linked to deposit accounts that the corporation controls.

Another area for growth is university cards, where cards are issued to students and act as their identification, give them access to building and university facilities, and also can be used as a debit card at campus stores.

Q.: What are you doing in other parts of the world?

MUNDT: In regions other than the U.S., we are still working on growing awareness and usage.

For example, in Europe, the Cirrus brand has been there only four years. So while we have a very high number of ATMs - more than in the U.S. - we need to do more marketing to the consumer.

We have very strong coverage of ATMs in South Africa, but elsewhere in the African region, we still need to deploy more ATMs. There just isn't enough coverage in that region.

Q.: In December you are scheduled to take on responsibility for MasterCard's global debit services group, and in the process, you will be expected to focus more on Maestro. What does the future hold for Maestro?

MUNDT: Our primary focus for Maestro for the past two years has been on the acceptance side. We have been busy building a card base, and we've been very successful. We went from zero to 100 million cards in less than three years.

Now, the same energy must be placed on the merchant side. Now that we have the cards, merchants should be interested. We already have a half million merchants on-line and a million committed.

The consumer is definitely ready to make purchases using the Maestro brand.

We have found that we no sooner certify a merchant and stick up a sign showing that the debit point of sale option is available, and then we see the transactions starting immediately.

Q.: Is there a plan eventually to combine the Cirrus and Maestro brands?

MUNDT: No. Customers know that Cirrus means ATM access to their checking, credit, or savings accounts. With a trend toward more and more off-premises ATMs, a customer knows that if he sees the Cirrus logo in a store window that he will be able to get access to his accounts and not just use the card for payment.

In fact, putting the Cirrus brand on credit cards is one of our strongest growth areas right now. Thirty-eight percent of the ATM withdrawals that occur in the system are linked to credit cards that carry the Cirrus brand.

Q.: MasterCard acquired BankMate, a regional ATM network in the Midwest, in November. We haven't heard a peep since. What's going on?

MUNDT: Our goal for the first six months after acquiring BankMate was the seamless, flawless move of processing into our system.

We're not ready to make any announcements yet, but you will see things before the end of the year. We are currently working on projects that will add value to the network, some emerging areas like home banking, bill payment, smart cards.

Q.: Speaking of smart cards, what role will Cirrus and Maestro be playing in some of the smart card initiatives announced by MasterCard?

MUNDT: We will be participating in the Australia pilot - helping with the processing and providing a gateway for some of the services.

Clearly, we are still in the research and development stage, so we are most interested in watching to see what happens.

The smart card is defined so many different ways. Some people are placing a chip on a prepaid telephone card that will never be renewed and calling that a smart card.

I believe the true economic value of smart cards will come by embedding the chip into existing credit and debit card products.

Then the added value will come from incremental functionality, loyalty programs, or an automated check register so you don't have to keep the paper receipt after every ATM or POS transaction and update the records yourself.

It's amazing what we can be doing with these things over the next five to 10 years.

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