In a futuristic video produced by American Express Co., an executive schedules and pays for his trip with a smart card, then submits his expenses for reimbursement with the click of a mouse.
Some of these functions are already available through tests American Express and other companies have begun; some are taking shape in laboratories and technologists' imaginations. But corporate card issuers agree the vision will inevitably come true as companies move to the higher level of technology.
"Initially, the corporate market is where there is the greatest benefit or return for smart cards," said Steve L. Abrams, MasterCard's senior vice president of corporate products.
"The value proposition here is you never have to wait in line to check in at an airline gate or a hotel," said Edward Gilligan, president of American Express Corporate Services.
"Everything we're doing fits together to help companies save money and to help travelers save time."
Mr. Gilligan said his company's video portrays a system that won't be fully ready for two to three years, but the groundwork is being laid.
American Express is working on an on-line corporate travel reservation system with Microsoft Corp. It also has smart card pilots under way with Hilton Hotels Corp. and American Airlines. A second airline and two more hotel chains will join the chip-based program soon, Mr. Gilligan said.
"Customers are just eating this stuff up," said Melissa Abernathy, an American Express spokeswoman. "When we announced the alliance with Microsoft, within a month more than 100 Fortune 500 companies wanted to be in the beta test."
The Hilton pilot, in which International Business Ma-chines Corp. is also a participant, was originally slated to include American Express and IBM employees only. Ms. Abernathy said when other organizations clamored to join, the organizers acquiesced.
The bank card associations are equally busy promoting smart card advances for business payments and travel.
MasterCard, which owns a majority of the Mondex electronic cash system, has teamed with Household International, American Airlines, and Carlson Wagonlit Travel for a ticketless travel program. Cards have been in the hands of 200 business travelers since August.
Visa is touting the potential business applications of its smart card effort, which it calls the Partner Program. Robert Stock, senior vice president of credit products for Visa U.S.A., said he sees "tremendous opportunities" in business-to-business electronic commerce, with smart cards as part of the mix.
"We're really trying to meet the needs of corporations to manage their expenses, to reduce their costs," Mr. Stock said. "That can be implemented through a lot of products, whether chip cards, the Internet, or magnetic stripe cards."
Some deep-pocketed banks are developing systems on the assumption that corporate expenses could some day revolve around the portable chip.
Citicorp, for example, has a research and development unit it calls the smart card center of excellence.
Cathy Raffaeli, executive director of commercial cards at Citibank, said her corporate customers are eager for smart cards. "The minute the center comes out with a solution, I look to embed it in my business proposition," Ms. Raffaeli said.
In the purchasing card area, GE Capital Services is moving to electronics for invoicing and payments.
Jerome Svigals, an electronic banking consultant in Redwood City, Calif., said GE Capital purchases $5 billion a year in goods and services, and projects its move to the Internet and smart cards will reduce procurement expenses by 30%.
"When you get a company like GE saying they're going to do that, it sounds like it's exploding," Mr. Svigals said.
Barbara Smiley, research director at Meridien Research in Needham, Mass., said security concerns make it "premature" to expect a mass migration to electronics.
"The Internet pretty much remains the Holy Grail," Ms. Smiley said. Chip card could certainly be part of the security solution.
"The technology is so nifty, we ought to be able to use it for something," Ms. Smiley said. "Finding the right business model is the issue."