Visa U.S.A. has launched an education program for bankers and merchants, aimed at eradicating manual entry of card information by sales clerks.

Visa officials at the American Bankers Association national bank card conference in Washington released a study showing that clerks at a group of Wal-Mart stores keyed in account numbers and expiration dates on 9% to 10% of transactions.

The system is supposed to rely on automated input of data from the card's magnetic stripe, which is usually swiped across a tape reader inside a point of sale terminal. Manual entry not only leads to errors, it prevents the Visa system from functioning as designed, Visa officials said.

New Service Spurred Change

Automatic entry became more critical in April, when Visa introduced its Payment Service 2000, designed to improve efficiency and cut losses by reducing costly chargeback disputes and preventing fraud.

To qualify for the lowest fees under PS 2000, merchants must transmit the full contents of the magnetic stripe on the back of cards, which include a coded identification number designed to thwart counterfeiters.

"It's important that the stripe be read for the program to be effective," said Rosalind L. Fisher, Visa's executive vice president of delivery systems. She said when Visa found that up to 15% of transactions were being entered manually, it hired SRI International of Menlo Park, Calif., to find out why.

SRI found that faulty cards were to blame for about 47% of the manual transactions. Visa can tell when a particular card is being entered manually. This month it started notifying issuers, so they can replace the faulty card with one that works properly, Ms. Fisher said.

In other cases, manual entries could have been avoided through better maintenance of equipment and training of clerks, the study showed.

"Wal-Mart, as part of the study, developed internal reporting by store, hour, and checkout lane, monitored their rates, and started to switch out equipment that showed prolonged problems," said Brian Ruder, vice president of Visa-Net credit services.

Visa Offers Prizes To Travel Agents

Visa U.S.A. is dangling $1 million in prizes in front of travel agents as an incentive to book travelers using Visa cards.

Under the "frequent booking" program, which was announced Tuesday at the American Society of Travel Agents' world travel congress in St. Louis, agents will earn credits each time they book travel on a client's Visa card through Worldspan, a computer reservations system used by 8,500 travel agencies.

The agents can redeem the credits through mid-1995 for merchandise and travel worth more than $1 million.

Visa's board of directors approved the prize program as part of a broader strategy to educate travel agents about Visa advantages, including a lower interchange rate than American Express.

"We're trying to build brand loyalty by rewarding agents who keep Visa top-of-mind," he said Thomas C. Edwards, vice president of travel and entertainment marketing for Visa.

Visa anticipates a 15% increase in volume, or $300 million, Mr. Edwards said.

Agents Are Surveyed

In other action at the congress, Visa was voted the best travel credit card of 1993. Visa joined nine suppliers to receive the Recognition of Excellence Awards.

Each year, 12,500 travel agents are surveyed for the supplier awards. The questionnaire yielded a record 1,621 replies. This was the first year credit and charge cards were included.

Visa received 42% of the vote, followed by American Express with 36% and MasterCard International with 8%.

Visa: Viewers Prefer Olympics to Soccer

Asurvey commissioned by Visa U.S.A. shows that four out of five Americans would rather watch the Olympic Games than the World Cup soccer championships on television.

Visa has been a worldwide Olympic sponsor since 1986, and is currently in the buildup to the 1994 winter games in Lillehammer, Norway, and the 1996 summer games in Atlanta.

Visa's rival, MasterCard International, became a worldwide sponsor of the World Cup in 1992. The soccer tournament will be played in the United States next year.

Internationally, the World Cup captures a larger television audience than the Olympics. But the Olympics is a far bigger draw in America.

Of the more than 1,000 people surveyed for Visa, 92% said they watched Olympic games in the past, while 21% viewed the World Cup.

Opinion Research Corp., Princeton, N.J., conducted the nationwide telephone survey Aug. 26-29.

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