Smartcard revolution offers the possibility of hard cash            
                  (Birmingham Post England; 01/16/99)                  

   Singapore is probably the last place on earth where trade unions might be 
expected to thrive.

   Well, make that second last, to Britain under New Labour.

   But the home of rampant capitalism actually has a Trades Union Congress, 
with more than 150,000 active members.

   And the Singapore labour organisation was one of the first in the world to 
offer sophisticated smartcards.

   For some time TUC members have been able to use the same card to take money 
from cashpoints, borrow books from libraries and pay for phone calls.

   Standard Chartered's Singapore office has now teamed up with Visa to 
introduce a card that allows trade unionists to manage their credit payments 
and shop on the Internet.

   Soon these smartcard users will be able to cybershop for watches, books and 
CDs at dozens of interactive kiosks.

   One day you might be able to do without cash completely if plastic card 
issuers have their way. And smartcards may be the key.

   Millions of people already use plastic credit or cash cards, where personal 
details are recorded in a magnetic stripe as a matter of routine.

   But the companies that issue them are trying to persuade their clients to 
switch to something subtly different.

   Smartcards look like credit cards, but carry a microprocessor instead of a 
magnetic stripe.

   They can hold far more information and interact with computers and other 
machines in much more complicated ways.

   They can "store" money electronically, just as a bank's computer system 
records savings.

   The bits and bytes on the chip carry a digital signature unique to the 
holder, offer data encryption for security, and are smart enough to include 
functions the magnetic-striped cards lack.

   For example, smartcards can carry fine details of membership in discount 
clubs or frequent flier programmes.

   Their better potential for encoding means an individual card can be designed 
to be difficult to duplicate, hopefully stopping some whizz kid from stealing 
its owner's electronic banknotes.

   The millimetre-thick cards could turn out to be the next form of money, but 
do not throw away your wallet just yet.

   Card issuers are keen to exploit the potential benefits and are offering 
sweeteners like loyalty points or discounts on future purchases to entice 
customers to switch.

   Visa International says its goal is to replace its 150 million magnetic-
stripe cards with 550 million smartcards by 2008.

   Meanwhile, it will issue hybrid cards with both magnetic stripes for machine 
transactions and chips for more "intelligent" applications.

   However, doubters note some serious problems.

   The wallets of smartcard aficionados are not necessarily getting thinner. 
Many different types are being created for different purposes; train and bus 
farecards, bankcards, phonecards and membership cards that open doors.

   Sceptics say there are too many. One single card for all purposes would be 
more convenient, but those involved with this latest computing revolution say 
that is unlikely ever to happen.

   Standard Chartered has pumped millions of dollars into smartcard technology 
in the last four years. Standard Chartered expects to see cards that serve as 
phonecards, subway cards and bankcards within a few years.

   However, managing your bank account over a mobile phone is an example of a 
function that must remain separate, according to Mr Jean Claude Deturche, 
marketing manager of credit card maker Schlumberger.

   Three banks and three telecommunications' operators in Hong Kong will launch 
such systems soon, where mobiles would come with two smartcard slots.

   One card, called a subscriber identity module card, would identify its 

   It would be issued by the telecom company and the phones would not work 
without it.

   The other would be for the bank's smartcard and would carry the electronic 

   However, even in the technological hotbed of South-east Asia, banks have 
generally been slow to take on board such systems because of the heavy 
investment needed.

   In Hong Kong, for example, the number of Mass Transit Railway smartcards far 
outstrips those issued by banks and the outlook for combining these particular 
cards seems remote.