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    A Smart Choice?

    Retailers gear up to push Visa smart cards.

    In its ongoing effort to promote wireless payments by consumers directly from their portable electronic devices, such as cell phones, Visa USA has announced its first initiative to help U.S. merchants accept smart card payments in stores.

    Smart cards, which are similar to conventional credit cards in size and shape, contain electronics including a microprocessor, memory and battery. They can store information, perform complex calculations and operate as sophisticated security tools.

    Visa, along with technology, financial services and industry partners, is working to streamline the steps merchants and their technology vendors must take to enable smart card payments. The company said it already has passed significant milestones in its effort to reach that goal. For example, bankcard processors, which support 80 percent of Visa's card volume, now can differentiate smart cards from magnetic stripe cards -- and can process Visa smart card-based transactions.

    In addition, Visa said it is working with point-of-sale device suppliers to provide hardware and software that let merchants accept smart card payments. Ultimately, the company hopes its initiative will improve the process by which consumers pay for goods and services, said Patrick Gauthier, Visa?s senior vice president of smart card applications.

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