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Electronic Purses:  Accessible by All?

John Gill

The UK Banking Code defines an electronic purse as "Any card or function of a card which contains real value in the form of electronic money which someone has paid for in advance, and which can be reloaded with further funds and which can be used for a range of purposes".
In their report on smart cards, Jones & Mearns (1997) state that "an electronic purse can be used by almost anyone"; however "almost anyone" does not appear to include people with disabilities.


1       What is an Electronic Purse?
Over the years there have been many proposals for systems to reduce consumer reliance on cash and cheques especially for low value purchases (say under £25).  The advent of smart card technology has offered a secure mechanism at an affordable price.  One of the benefits of smart cards is the creation of new value-added services like electronic purses which store pre-paid monetary value directly on the card.
For some time pre-payment cards have been in general use for applications such as public telephones.  These disposable cards are loaded with a fixed amount of value, which was then decremented during use.  The next step was to make the cards reloadable which can be done at specialised terminals or automated teller machines (ATMs).  Then it is only a small step for the cards to be used for more than a single application.
However these systems vary significantly depending on the type of organisation operating the service.  Historically the banking organisations have placed great importance on security, whereas public transport operators have been more concerned with the time taken to complete the transaction.
In public transport systems there is often a requirement to store centrally a complete record of the transactions.  In part this is motivated by the requirement to accurately allocate subsidies among various operators for carrying passengers who do not pay full fares (eg in some countries disabled passengers are not charged for using local public transport).
Such a central record means that if a card is reported as lost, the card can be electronically cancelled the next time someone attempts to use it, and the rightful owner can be reimbursed with the value on the card at the time it was stolen.  In practice, the central system is often offline and it is updated overnight; this means that there can be up to 24 hours during which the stolen card can still be used.
In other types of system a record of recent transactions is stored on the card and the terminal receiving payment may record the serial number of the card as well as the amount of the transaction.  However not all operators think it is essential to be able to trace individual transactions.  If there is no record of transactions and someone cracks the security system, then they would have a perfect method of "printing money".
A smart card is a credit card sized plastic card incorporating an integrated electronic circuit.  Smart cards are one of four main types:

2       Why use Electronic Purses?
The development of electronic purses has been driven by commercial and technological organisations rather than by demand from consumers.
For the organisation operating an electronic purse system, an attraction is that they have the use of the money stored on the card.  This may not sound much advantage unless one considers a large system with millions of users who may each have £20 stored on their card.
For banks, the advantages are in the reduction of handling of cash and cheques which have to be transported securely and are labour intensive to handle.  It also is a means to protect the bank / card holder relationship which is perceived to be important in today's competitive environment.
For the retailer the advantages are the reduction in handling of currency and cheques including the delay in it being credited to their bank account.  However they also have the use of the money as soon as it is transferred from the customer's card to their terminal.  It is possible for an intelligent terminal to automatically transfer the funds to the bank as soon as a predetermined amount has been reached.  Another advantage is the reduction in the risk of theft.
However the advantages to the consumer are less obvious despite the hype emanating from the commercial organisations in this area (this is reflected in the lack of factual content in many of their web sites).  Consumers will need to see significant advantages if they are to be asked to pay to have an electronic purse. 
The electronic purse operators suggest the following advantages to the consumer:
(a)        Ease of use

(b)        Flexibility

(c)        Accessibility and convenience

(d)       Safety and control


3       Scenarios
It is possible to envisage situations in which the customers will find it advantageous to use electronic purses.  Here are just three examples:

3.1     Enhanced Loyalty Card
In a competitive environment, a service operator might wish to attract extra customers.  For instance, a train operator might operate a loyalty card for premium rate passengers which gave them credit which could only be used in outlets owned by that group of companies.  Such outlets could be for refreshments on board the train or shops selling audio entertainment.
This is a 'closed' system in that the electronic money can only be spent in outlets linked to the company.  An extension to such a system is for different companies to collaborate and have a joint loyalty card / electronic purse system.

3.2     Parking Meters
A local council incurs significant cost in emptying coins from parking meters.  A possible system would be for a driver's electronic purse to hold the registration number of the car.  The mode of operation would be for the driver to insert and then remove the card at the meter when parking the car; the meter would then display the registration number of the car.  On departure the driver would again insert the card; the amount of the parking charge would be subtracted from the electronic purse and the registration number removed from the display.  In case of default, the council could chase the owner via the car registration number.  Disabled drivers could be issued with special cards so that they do not have to pay for car parking.
In this scenario, the council might not be too worried about drivers who are unwilling to use an electronic purse.  The loss of business could be interpreted as a success in persuading drivers to change to using public transport and thus reducing air pollution in town centres.

3.3     University Campus Card
Universities often require students to carry identity cards which may also be used for access to car parks, library loans, access to laboratories and computer systems.  The addition of electronic purse facilities is attractive to university administrators, and could lead to electronic money being the only acceptable form of payment on a campus.

4       The Technologies
As smart cards contain increasingly powerful microprocessors and large memories, a future development will be to have multi-functional cards with an operating system and a number of independent application modules.  Therefore there is the possibility of a user having a card onto which applications are loaded by individual service providers (eg at an ATM).
At present it would appear possible that Multos, developed by Mastercard, will be one of the dominant operating systems, with application modules being written in Java. However Visa have developed an open chip platform based on Java.  This means that financial institutions are able to choose which operating system and suppliers they wish to use, and are not tied to one proprietary system such as Multos.
However despite the technological viability of such multi-application cards, their introduction is likely to be held up by a myriad of problems such as branding and retailer acceptance.
A smart card can also contain information about the user's preferred interface on the terminal eg large characters on the screen.  A method of coding this information is contained in a draft European standard prEN1332-4.


5       The Main Players
There are a large number of organisations operating 'closed' electronic purse systems; these systems are 'closed' in that they are restricted to a specific application or group of outlets.  The 'open' systems are designed for use by almost any organisation which currently accepts cash.
With the 'open' systems, Mondex and Visa Cash appear likely to dominate the UK market in the forseeable future, but internationally the situation is far from clear.  Both these systems claim to comply to the EMV (Europay / Visa / Mastercard) standard for chip credit and debit functions but does not cover the electronic purse application.

5.1     Mondex
Mondex was set up in the UK by Midland Bank, National Westminster Bank; they were joined by Bank of Scotland in 1995.  During 1995 it started a pilot scheme in Swindon, in partnership with British Telecom, which now has over 14,000 card holders and around 600 retailers.  This pilot has since been joined by implementations in five universities (Exeter, York, Aston, Nottingham and Sheffield Hallam) with the University of Edinburgh due to join in autumn 1998. 
The Mondex purse does not require central clearing which means that it is an unaccounted purse in that the only record of transactions is on the card itself.  One effect of this approach is that it gives the user privacy concerning their spending habits.  Another is that retailers and other people accepting payment by Mondex have instant access to their money.
Mondex was split into Mondex UK and Mondex International which is 51% owned by Mastercard.  There are now pilot schemes in Canada, USA, Hong Kong, Philippines, New Zealand and Australia.  By the end of 1997, Mondex International produced in excess of one million reloadable Mondex cards; they anticipate that this figure will rise to five million by the end of 1998.  Mondex franchises have been purchased in over 50 countries and pilot schemes are currently operating in 23 locations.  The UK franchise is currently owned by Midland NatWest.

5.2     Visa Cash
Run by Visa International, Visa Cash has three different types of card: disposable, stand-alone reloadable and feature reloadable.  The latter is where the Visa Cash application is added onto an existing debit, credit or ATM card.
In the UK, Visa Cash is working with Barclaycard, Abbey National, Royal Bank of Scotland, Halifax, Lloyds/TSB and Co-op Bank.  A pilot scheme in Leeds has 55,000 cardholders and the card is accepted at 1,400 terminals in and around Leeds.
Money is loaded onto the card using special terminals, sometimes referred to as cashless ATMs,  to transfer money from the customer's bank account.  Unlike Mondex, Visa Cash is a fully auditable system.
Internationally, Visa Cash has issued over 8 million cards in 16 countries (of which 40% are reloadable) which can be used in over 170,000 terminals. Up to the end of March 1998, about 6.9 million transactions have been conducted with an average transaction amount of £3.07.

5.3     Proton
An electronic purse distributed by Banksys which includes most of the banks in Belgium.  The technology is also used in the Netherlands where it is called Chip-Knip.  Chip-Knip is currently only an electronic purse but it is planned to incorporate other applications so that the card becomes multifunctional.  In Belgium there are 23,000 terminals installed with 4 million cards in circulation; outside Belgium, there are over 100,000 terminals installed and 26 million cards ordered.
Proton is also in use in Switzerland, and is being piloted in Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Sweden and Philippines.  American Express have taken out a licence and in late 1997 started multiple pilots.

5.4     Danmont
Originated in Denmark, but Visa International acquired a license regarding the specifications.  Main usage is in Denmark where cards are distributed in local post offices, newsstands, service stations, stores, schools and train stations.

5.5     Clip
As its first step in developing an electronic purse product for the European market, Europay International created Clip in 1996, which is claimed to be the first multi-currency EMV-compliant purse.  Clip is currently being piloted in the Czech Republic as a domestic-only product.
Today there are some twenty different domestic purse products currently live in Europe, none of which can be used internationally.  Europay's strategy has been to promote mutual acceptance amongst these different schemes through the creation of minimum standards and bi-/mutli-lateral agreements.  Emphasis is being placed on the need to address key traffic areas eg tourist locations and borders.


6       User Interface
To load an electronic purse, the user must be able to operate an ATM or card loading terminal.  Usually this requires the user to be able to read a visual display, but methods for alleviating this problem have been developed (Gill, 1996 & 1997).
To use the electronic purse, the user hands the card to the shop assistant who inserts the card in a terminal and keys in the amount of the transaction which is displayed visually to the customer.  The customer confirms that the amount is correct, and the money is transferred from the card to the terminal.  In some systems, the customer needs to key in their PIN (personal identification number) before the transaction can be completed.
In the future, PIN systems may be superceded by biometric methods such as iris patterns, fingerprints or facial recognition.  Ideally users should be able to choose to use a PIN instead of a biometric method if they have problems with the biometric system (eg fingerprint recognition requires the user to have fingers).
Many electronic purse systems provide users with a balance reader the size of a chocolate bourbon biscuit.  These readers tend to have low contrast visual displays which are very difficult to read by people with impaired vision.
Systems such as Mondex offer customers the possibility of using an electronic 'wallet' to verify balances and to transfer money from one card to another.  For instance a taxi driver might have an electronic wallet so that he or she can accept electronic payments.  Unfortunately some wallets have a numeric keypad laid out in the telephone format and some in the calculator format.  These wallets are not easy to use by the uninitiated and pose particular difficulties for those who have difficulty in reading the liquid crystal display.  The wallet offers the possibility of 'locking' the card using a four digit PIN.
Mondex also offers the facility to transfer funds between the card and the customer's bank account using a screen phone (currently limited to models developed by BT).  Screen phones can be modified to be accessible by blind people, so this method of loading a card could be the preferred mode for many blind and partially sighted users.

7       People with Disabilities
In developed countries, the prevalence of various groups is:


Prevalence per
thousand population

Wheelchair user


Cannot walk without aid


Cannot use fingers


Cannot use one arm


Reduced strength


Reduced co-ordination


Speech impaired


Language impaired


Dyslexia (severe)


Intellectually impaired




Hard of hearing




Braille readers


Low vision




People with reduced strength or reduced co-ordination would have significant problems with handling many of the electronic wallets or balance readers.  However they may find an electronic purse easier to manage than a handful of coins.
People with an intellectual impairment will have significant problems handling money in an abstract form such as an electronic purse, and would require special training in its use.
The group with the most obvious problems are those with impaired vision.  Difficulty in reading visual displays will make it very difficult to handle electronic purse systems as they are currently designed.

7.1    What can be done to help?
For visually impaired persons, the main problems with electronic purse systems relate to the user interface.  In particular many of the devices (eg balance readers, wallets) have poor contrast visual displays which also pose problems for many elderly persons.  One possibility would be to have special versions of the balance readers and wallets for those who cannot read the standard version.
Such a special wallet / balance reader might include:
(a)        High contrast display with larger characters.
(b)        Larger buttons which have clear visual markings and tactual feedback.
(c)        A funnel opening to help guide the card into the reader.
(d)       Instructions in large print.
One disadvantage of this approach is that too many of the general public might want the special version.
At the retailer's premises it is important that the visual display is positioned such that the customer can easily read it before agreeing to the completion of the transaction.  For customers with low vision, this requires that they can get close to the high-contrast visual display.  If possible the display should be white characters on a black background; red displays are often used for technical reasons, but some people with low vision have problems with this end of the spectrum.  Another possibility would be for there to be speech output of the transaction amount; if this was not wanted for all customers, this requirement could be coded on the user's card (in accordance with prEN1332-4).
The European Commission has funded a project, called Vistel, to develop adaptations to screen phones to make them accessible by blind and partially sighted users.  These adaptations could mean that blind and partially sighted persons could transfer funds to and from their electronic purses at home.  However the cost of a screen phone with speech output will be significantly greater than for a standard screen phone.
The European Blind Union has set up a working group on electronic money systems.  The terms of reference include preparing lists of user requirements for the design of electronic money systems so that they are fully accessible by blind and partially sighted people, and to disseminate this information.
For intellectually impaired persons, it might be useful to have a simple balance reader which showed the balance pictorially.

8       Recommendations
1.         Since electronic purses could offer significant advantages to many disabled and elderly people, the purse operators should ensure that they do not exclude this user population.
2.         Serious consideration should be given to education and training of the users.  This should include production of clearly written instruction booklets in large print.
3.         All electronic purse cards should include a tactile identifier for card orientation (in accordance with prEN 1332-2).
4.         Special versions (which might evolve into being the standard version) of customer terminals should be developed and made available at affordable prices.
5.         Retailer's terminals should include clear visual displays and, where possible, speech output for the customers to check the amount of the transaction.
6.         For visually impaired persons, provision of adapted screen phones at affordable prices is likely to be crucial if they are not to be excluded from using electronic purses.


9       Publications
Gill J M   Smart Cards: Meeting the Needs of Elderly and Disabled People.  ISBN 1 86048 002 0, Nov 1994.
Gill J M (ed)   Proceedings of the COST 219 Seminar on Smart Cards and Disability.   COST 219, ISBN 1 86048 003 9, Nov 1994, 166 pp.  Also at
Gill J M   Smart Cards: The Forgotten Customers.  Proceedings of Smart Card ‘95, February 1995. Also at
Gill J M & Currie K   Smart Cards and Terminals.  In Roe P R W (ed)  Telecommunications for All.  COST 219, Commission of the European Communities, October 1995, pp 196-204.  Also at
Gill J M   Design of Smart Card Systems to Meet the Needs of Disabled and Elderly Persons.  Proceedings of the ECART3 Conference, Portugal, ISBN 972 9301 18 2, October 1995, pp 314-316.  Also at
Gill J M   Smart Cards: Interfaces for People with Disabilities.  Royal National Institute for the Blind, ISBN 1 86048 007 1, February 1996, 16 pp. Also at
Gill J M   Making Cash Dispensers Easier to Use.  Royal National Institute for the Blind, September 1996, 8 pp.  Also at
Gill J M   The Coding of Interface Requirements on Smart Cards for People with Disabilities.  Smart Card Technology International, ISSN 1361 8283, February 1997, pp 102-106.
Gill J M  Access Prohibited?  Information for Designers of Public Access Terminals.  ISBN 1 86048 014 4, May 1997, revised April 1998.  Also at
Gill J M (ed)   Domestic Telecommunication Terminals: Access by People who are Blind or have Low Vision.  COST 219 UK Group, December 1997.  Also at
Jones D & Mearns C   The Smart Card 1998.  SJB Services, ISBN 1 900118 03 3, 1997.
Roe P R W (ed)  Telecommunications for All.  COST 219, The European Commission, CD 90 95 712 EN C, 1995.  Also at
This book gives a general overview of issues related to accessibility and usability of telecommunications equipment and services for disabled and elderly people.
Silver J H, Gill J M & Wolffsohn J S W   Text Display Preferences on Self-Service Terminals by Visually Disabled People.  November 1994, ISBN 1 86048 001 2.  Also at


10     Web sites

10.1   Electronic purses/money
Bibliography on Electronic Purses
A useful site with many links to other relevant sites.
Clip claims to be the first multi-currency electronic purse product which is fully compliant with the EMV standard at the card and the terminal.
Describes the Danish Danmont system which is licensed to Visa International.  Their disposable card is being replaced by a reloadable card.
Ecash is a software-based payments system that sends electronic payments over the Internet, but can also be used from telephones, fax machines and interactive television.
Covers the various pilot schemes in the UK, and current developments from Mondex.
Mondex International
Describes the Mondex electronic purse system, and gives details of the pilot schemes in various parts of the world.
An open high security multi-application operating system for smart cards, enabling a number of different applications to be held on the card at the same time.
Describes the Proton electronic purse which is operated by Banksys in Belgium.
The Smartcard Information Page
A useful starting point for a web search of sites relating to smart cards.
Visa Cash
Describes the Visa Cash electronic purse but provides limited numerical information.

10.2   Disability aspects
This group of 18 countries is concerned with access to telecommunications by disabled and elderly people.
This is the main European web site concerned with designing information and communication technology systems so that they are accessible to everybody including disabled and elderly people.  This site contains a wealth of information including demographics of disability in Europe, relevant standards as well as legislative aspects.
RNIB Scientific Research Unit
This Unit is concerned with influencing the design of equipment and systems for the general public such that they are accessible by visually disabled persons, and influencing the development of relevant standards.
Trace Center
This is the main American web site concerning access to public access terminals by people with disabilities.
This project is concerned with access to screen phones by blind and partially sighted people.
World Information on Disability
A useful starting point for a web search on disability.

10.3   Legislative aspects
Americans with Disabilities Act
The Americans with Disabilities Act Document Center contains the ADA statute, regulations, ADAAG (Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines), federally reviewed tech sheets, and other assistance documents.
Australian Disability Legislation
Provides details of the Australian Disability Discrimination Act 1992.
UK Disability Legislation
The Disability Discrimination Act gives people with disabilities new rights in the areas of: employment; access to goods, facilities and services; and buying or renting land or property.


11     Standards
Standards Australia
1 The Crescent, Homebush, New South Wales 2140, Australia.  Tel +612 746 4600.  Fax +612 746 8450.
       AS 3769: 1990                Automatic teller machines - user access

Comite Europeen de Normalisation
Rue de Stassart 36, B-1050 Brussels, Belgium.  Tel +32 2 519 6811.  Fax +32 2 519 6819.
       EN 726                            Requirements for IC cards and terminals for telecommunications use
       prEN 1332                      Machine readable cards, related device interfaces and operations. 
                                                Part 1 Design principles and symbols for the user interface
Part 2  Dimension & location of tactile identifier for ID1 cards
Part 3  Keypads
Part 4  Coding of user requirements for people with special needs

European Telecommunications Standards Institute
PO Box 52, Route des Lucioles, Sophia-Antipolis, Valbonne, F-06561 Alpes Maritimes, France.  Tel +33 92 94 42 00.  Fax +33 93 65 47 16.
       ETR 029                         Access to telecommunications for people with special needs: Recommendations for improving and adapting telecommunication terminals and services for people with impairments
ETR 029: 1991               Access to telecommunications for people with special needs. Recommendations for improving and adapting telecommunication terminals and services for people with impairments
ETR 039: 1992               Human factors standards for telecommunications applications
ETR 160: 1995               Human factors aspects of multimedia telecommunications

International Organization for Standardization
1 Rue de Varembé, Case postale 56, CH-1211 Geneva 20, Switzerland.  Tel +41 22 749 0111.  Fax +41 22 733 3430.
ISO 7816                         Identification cards - integrated circuit cards with contacts
ISO/IEC 10536               Identification cards - contactless integrated circuit cards

International Telecommunications Union
Place des Nations, CH-1211 Geneva 20, Switzerland.  Tel +41 22 730 5111.  Fax +41 22 733 7256.
ITU E134                        Human factors aspects of public terminals - generic operating procedures
ITU E135                        Human factors aspects of public telecommunications terminals for people with disabilities






Dr John Gill is Chief Scientist at Royal National Institute for the Blind, 224 Great Portland Street, London W1N 6AA, England  (Tel +44 171 391 2371;  Fax +44 171 388 7747;  Email


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