SmartCards could solve EMU hiccups

SmartCard technology was yesterday put forward as a possible answer to some of the technical headaches associated with monetary union, when the `Euro' becomes the sole currency throughout the European Union in 2002.

The cost to banks of implementing the switch to EMU has been estimated at between ten and twelve billion dollars, with the IT element alone accounting for up to 60% of this figure, at a time when many businesses including banks are struggling to cope with the millennium bug threat.

SmartCard technology offers the possibility of enabling transactions in different flavours of EMU to be much smoother for both businesses and private individuals.

John Stevens, MEP for Thames Valley, told a seminar hosted by the Sema Group yesterday, that EMU was going to cause a massive shake out in the banking sector, and that this would feed through into the economy as a whole, though the long term effect of this shake out he believed would be positive, predicting that we would be left with only six European banks out of current total of 138 at the end of this process. But the banks that were left would be amongst the top ten biggest banks in the world.

"The banks have lagged in this (Smart Card) technology, even though they are the natural principal beneficiaries and they could even position themselves as the gate keepers of this technology" said Stevens.

Smart Card deployment in Europe is set to increase hugely by 2000, particularly in the UK, where Visa and MasterCard will roll out Smart Card credit cards possibly as early as late this year according to Sema's Mike Gillespie.

If the SmartCard is to be an enabling technology for EMU, the European Central Bank would possibly have to act as an issuing authority, or at least a licensing and regulatory authority, to ensure open systems and open access, said John Stevens. Later this year, the European Union will issue a white paper on SmartCard deployment in Europe.

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