MasterCard International will buy 51 percent of London-based Mondex International, a major marketer of smart cards used for financial and security applications.
MasterCard also will adopt Mondex's technology for chip cards that can be used for purchases with a "stored value" card or for other smart card products.
MasterCard sees the investment as an advancement of Mondex's version of smart cards as an industry standard, and it has agreed not to invest in other "electronic purse" products. Today some 35 different smart card schemes are used around the world.
Smart cards also are expected to be used for network security to authenticate individual users. They also could be used as debit and credit cards, to increase merchant loyalty programs, and to store individual health care data.
The 17 international financial institutions that founded Mondex International last year will share the minority ownership. Since July 1995, Mondex has run a pilot program in Swindon, England, where some 13,000 people can now use their cards in some 700 retail outlets. Similar large-scale pilots are now underway in Hong Kong and Canada, with smaller-scale trials in San Francisco and New Zealand.