The executive who has led MasterCard's charge into e-commerce has left the company at a crucial stage in the development of its key technology for secure transactions.
The departure of Steve Mott, MasterCard senior vice president for electronic commerce, has raised questions about potential impact on the Secure Electronic Transactions (SET) protocol. Mott could not be reached for comment.
But despite the resignation and rumors on a SET mailing list, MasterCard adamantly denies that it's pulling back from the initiative. "We absolutely have not pulled out of SET," MasterCard spokesman Edward Dixon said today. "[It's] absolutely not true. SET is ongoing."
Visa, which developed SET with MasterCard, echoed that position. "Personnel changes in organizations are going to happen, but we're moving forward full speed ahead. We expect that MasterCard will remain fully committed to SET," Visa spokesman Ryan Mikolasic said.
Mott's pending departure was announced at a business meeting two weeks ago in Florida, an event attended by SET technology vendors and financial institutions that eventually will implement the technology.
Dixon said Mott, who has been MasterCard's chief spokesman for SET, resigned to pursue other business opportunities. His interim replacement is Alan Glass, another MasterCard senior vice president, who has been working on SET issues for more than a year.
Mott has pushed the SET partners to add other encryption schemes to later versions of the protocol; SET 1.0 uses only algorithms from RSA Data Security, and Mott has pushed to add elliptic curve cryptography such as that from Certicom. Mott also had championed smaller SET vendors, who have been hit hardest financially by delays in development of the protocol.
E-commerce analysts expressed surprise at word of Mott's departure, but they disagreed over what it means for SET, which is designed for secure credit card transactions over the Internet.
E-commerce analyst Scott Smith of Current Analysis termed Mott's departure "very inconvenient for MasterCard." He added: "There are rumblings from even the largest members to press the credit card associations to move forward with protocol, to take steps to dispel sense that things aren't moving."
Cliff Condon of Forrester Research believes that Mott's departure may be a blow to SET, which he doesn't expect to see implemented this year.
But VeriFone executive Tom Wills said Mott's departure was not completely surprising, given his background and personality as an entrepreneur, a factor cited by several people in the industry.
"MasterCard is in the process of moving from development to an implementing mode," Wills said. "To the extent that Steve Mott was in the start-up phase, and an entrepreneur, it seems like a logical breaking point."
Wills characterized the impact of Mott's departure as a "blip."
In the meantime, some restive banks are taking alternative approaches. National Australia Bank has a non-SET Internet payment system called National InterPay, developed with Australia's Quest Software, that includes some SET features but not all.
Earlier this month, VeriFone, now a unit of Hewlett Packard, and IBM posted the first part of an SET interoperability guide. The document details how the two largest SET software vendors made their software for consumers and merchants interoperate.
Interoperability issues must be addressed if SET transactions are to become commonplace--without that, consumers would only be able to buy from Internet storefronts with software from the same vendors. Likewise, banks and merchants would have to have the same kind of software.