Fleet Unveils First Visa Smart Card

FleetBoston Financial Corp. credit card customers can start applying for the company's new Fusion smart Visa card beginning on Monday, company officials said Friday.

The Fusion card is the first to introduce Visa's new smart card and downloadable platform technology announced this week from Visa International Inc. Used in conjunction with a PC smart card reader, the card will merge online and offline capabilities of the card to suit customers' needs, said Warren Wilcox, executive vice president of planning and development for Horsham, Penn.-based Fleet Credit Card Services.

"I think there's a whole potential spectrum of value-added applications [smart cards can deploy]," Wilcox said. "Ultimately, it will be the consumer who decides what goes on there."

Wilcox said that at present the Fusion card has only three application features, two available to users now and a third forthcoming, that Visa has yet to give a brand name to.

The Fleet Credit Card Services smart card includes a payment application containing a user's payment information stored directly on the chip. The application provides interoperability access to other Euro Pay Visa/Mastercard (EMV)-approved smart card point-of-sale terminals overseas, Wilcox added. An authentication application bearing a "Fusion access code," which locks or unlocks the chip to allow programs to operate inside it, is also on the card.

Applications available via download involving online customer loyalty perks and e-coupons through vendor partnerships are expected down the road, Fleet officials said.

Although stronger security and fraud prevention measures in smart card technology give the cards greater public appeal, end-to-end connectivity issues and a distinct target audience will slow its implementation in the United States, said attorney Brian Smith of Washington-based Mayer, Brown, and Platt.

"I would imagine this would be marketed to a select groups of consumers, those that are more readily identified to first use it, recognize its [online benefits], and pay for it because it will have an additional cost," Smith said.

Smith, a former general counsel to smart card advocate Mastercard International Inc., said a fair amount of legwork still needs to be done by credit card companies and e-tailers to ensure the technology is ubiquitous and interoperable with other software and machines, to make full use of its potential.

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