The Toronto Star
Thursday, November 6, 1997

Cash-card's debut delayed

Likely won't be available in GTA before year 2000

by Les Whittington

Consumers in the Toronto area will probably have to wait until 2000 before they can latch on to the hottest new electronic payments gadget - cash-loadable cards that can be used in everything from pay phones to taxis to pizza parlours.

The financial groups behind the best-known experiment with these cards, the Mondex trial in Guelph, said yesterday more than 10,000 people in that city now have Mondex cards.

But as successful as the Guelph experiment has been, it is going to take longer than originally planned to begin rolling out the cash-loadable cards nationally, a key banker acknowledged yesterday.

Interest in these cards has been fanned by widespread publicity about consumer use of the futuristic new Mondex smart card in Guelph. And the banks had once been expected to begin making them available across Canada next year.

But Al McGale, vice-president of stored value cards at the Royal Bank of Canada, said the national roll-out is now not expected to start until sometime in 1999.

This means, he said, that it is unlikely consumers in the Greater Toronto Area would be given a chance use the cards before 2000 or 2001. ``The problem is getting it out into all of the retailers, it's a big chore'', said McGale. For Toronto, ``I think 2000 or 2001 is probably a reasonable expectation.''

The Royal Bank was one of the original backers of Mondex in Canada.

The Mondex system, invented in Britain, allows consumers to load cash on to a so-called smart card at special telephones and bank machines. Merchants automatically deduct the cost of a purchase from the card.

In addition to the Guelph experiment, two other trials are being conducted in Canada. One, by the Bank of Montreal, the Toronto Dominion Bank, and Canada Trust, is being run in Kingston. Another, by Visa Canada and Scotiabank, is taking place in Barrie.

Despite the variety of experiments, the 10 largest deposit-taking institutions have decided to back the Mondex version of the smart card.

But since many of these financial groups have only recently opted for Mondex, it will take longer to get the system up and running, McGale said.

Mondex is unlikely to work if introduced piecemeal in any one area.

``The only way that these products will become successful is if they are used throughout a community, so you need as many banks as possible and as many consumers as possible using the card'', McGale said.

Yesterday Royal Bank, CIBC, and the Guelph & Wellington Credit Union said more than $1.5 million of electronic cash value had been issued since the experiment there began in November, 1995.

Copyright © 1997 by The Toronto Star. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission.