The Globe & Mail
Saturday, October 31, 1998

Mondex pulls plug on Guelph pilot project

Three key backers refuse to back test for cash card

by Suzanne Craig and Richard Blackwell

Cash card pioneer Mondex Canada has pulled the plug on its much-ballyhooed Guelph pilot project after failing to tee up financial support from three of its largest members.

The association, which is comprised of Canada's 10 major financial institutions and is part of an electronic commerce program involving 50 countries around the world, decided to end the Guelph experiment because three of its key backers - Toronto-Dominion Bank, Bank of Montreal, and Canada Trust - would not join the Guelph test, launched in February, 1997. As well, one of the biggest financial supporters of the Guelph project, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, told Mondex last week that it was pulling out because the initiative lacked critical mass.

This setback will delay the national rollout of the Mondex card, which at one point was expected to occur by the end of this year.

"All of us are still committed to Mondex. It is just not going to happen now", said Marlene Boyaner, CIBC's vice-president of smart cards.

The Mondex system enables consumers to load cards equipped with computer chips with electronic "cash". When the cardholder buys something, the dollar value of the purchase is transferred to the merchant's card or terminal from the buyer's card.

Royal Bank of Canada and CIBC brought the Mondex technology to Canada from Britain in 1995. Then, in 1997, Bank of Montreal, TD Bank, Canada Trust, Bank of Nova Scotia, National Bank of Canada, the credit unions, and Caisse Desjardins came on board to form Mondex Canada.

TD Bank, Bank of Montreal, and Canada Trust previously backed another card that was tested in Kingston, Ont. Insiders at the banks said they learned all they needed from that test, so joining the Guelph experiment didn't make financial sense.

An enormous amount of money and time was poured into the Guelph project, which is scheduled to end officially on Dec. 31.

For instance, the city converted hundreds of parking meters to be Mondex-compatible and hundreds of merchants installed Mondex terminals. City officials could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Joanne De Laurentiis, president of the Mondex Canada Association, said while certain Mondex members are "facing resource constraints", it will not stop the planned test of the project in Sherbrooke, Que.

"This does not change the status of the Mondex organization at all", she said. "They [Mondex Canada] are still committed to the Mondex purse as a product and fully committed to moving it forward as a product."

Royal Bank and Mouvement des Caisses Desjardins are the only backers of the Sherbrooke project. CIBC said last week it would not participate, citing the same reasons that it gave for ending its commitment to the Guelph pilot.

Ms. De Laurentiis said Mondex will not roll out the technology if it incorporates only stored cash. What Mondex needs, she said, is to add other forms of payment to the card, such as credit or debit.

"That is part of what we learned in Guelph: You don't just go out and roll out a new form of payment on its own. The retailer wants one terminal at the point of sale."

The card that will be used in Sherbrooke will combine stored electronic cash and a debit card.

Melanie Rigney, editor of U.S. publication Smart Card Alert, said news that the Guelph pilot is ending isn't good for Mondex.

"Canada was supposed to be the showpiece for Mondex International. Can Mondex Canada hold its banks together? CIBC, one of the founders of Mondex Canada, now is not going to participate in Sherbrooke. This isn't good news."

Copyright © 1998 by The Globe & Mail. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission.