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Internet

Firms bank on electronic cash

AT&T and Wells Fargo endorsed an electronic cash program called Mondex.

AT&T's Universal Card Service and Wells Fargo Bank have announced support for a standard that could empty consumers' pockets of loose change and dirty dollar bills and replace them with smart cards.

The two companies threw their weight behind a global electronic cash program called Mondex, which is designed to replace small cash transactions and could help make Internet payments as easy and secure as dropping a quarter into a jukebox.

Containing a small, programmable computer chip, electronic cash cards store money as data, debiting and adding cash as a consumer spends and replenishes the card. The cards are gaining currency as more big names throw their weight behind electronic cash trials, such as the Visa Cash experiment at the Summer Olympics in Atlanta.

Mondex representatives say their system differs from others because it allows consumer to exchange cash between cards using specially equipped telephones; Visa Cash users, on the other hand, are limited to buying products from participating merchants.

In addition to purchases at stores, movie theater concession stands, and other points of sale, AT&T envisions its Mondex card as a linchpin for electronic commerce over the Net, including "micropayments," or transactions of less than $20. The system will go into trial in the first half of 1997.

"One of the things interesting about the Internet is there's no way for merchants to really make money at this point," said Mitch Montagna, a spokesman for AT&T Universal Card Services. "We see one big development is people who can make micropayments [online]. Mondex will be ideal for that kind of application. We see it as a credit card supplement."

Supported by 17 banks worldwide, Mondex today also received the backing of Amdahl, which announced that it would make transaction-processing systems based on the Mondex standard.

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Electronic cash: the future of money