Electron decals have been showing up on merchant windows across the United States signaling the gradual acceptance of the Visa electronic debit card.

Visa says more than 125 institutions in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America issue some 8.7 million Electron cards. Recently, Bancomer, one of Latin America's top five banks, confirmed it will issue 500,000 Electron cards this year.

Since many Electron cardholders travel to the United States, Visa says, it has begun the merchant acceptance process here and enlisted the help of acquiring banks.

"I don't think it's a very difficult process," said Eric Turille, senior vice president of First National Bank of Omaha. "As long as the [processing] pricing's the same, then it's going to be a matter of sticking up a decal."

Visa has visited acquirers like First National and given them kits to sign up new merchants and put up Electron decals.

Electron gets its name from the fact that it requires eleCtronic processing. The card requires 100% authorization, but customers can sign the receipt and/ or enter their personal identification numbers to identify themselves. No personal account numbers are embossed on the debit card, so it cannot be used with imprinters.

Visa estimates it takes an average of one to three days to post the cardholder's deposit account for signature-based acceptance, and 24 hours for PIN-based acceptance at the point of sale.

Visa has three products in its debit program: Electron; Visa Check, the off-line debit product; and Interlink, the on-line PIN-based product.

MasterCard International offers an international on-line product, Maestro, and an offline card. MasterDebit. A MasterCard spokeswoman said that because the association does not offer a regional debit product like Electron, it need not create merchant acceptance.

U.S. merchants with on-line terminals can process the Electron card just like other on-line cards. Visa says more than 2.5 million. Visa merchants worldwide have the necessary electronic processing capabilities.

So far, more than 250,000 merchants worldwide display the Electron decals. Visa says.

During an Electron transaction, the merchant sends an authorization request to the issuer through the, on-line terminal. The issuer reviews the cardholder's deposit account and authorizes the transaction accordingly. It is processed through Visanet, Visa's transaction processing network.

Aiming for Travelers

Visa's marketing has positioned Electron acceptance as a way to capture some 27 million travelers from regions where Electron issued. In 1992, nearly 20 million travelers spent more than $26 billion in the United States, Visa said, citing figures from the U.S. Travel and Tourism Administration.

As they travel, Electron cardholders will look for the decals in shopS;, hotels, and restaurants. And if the cards carry the Plus logo, travelers can use them at Plus automated teller machines.

Educating merchants and acquirers is part of a strategy to promote and support electronic acceptance at the point of sale, said Serenella Leoni, director of deposit access products for Visa International. "We're just starting the process," she said. "We see this as a product that has reached its time to market."

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