TAKING another step towards a cashless society, the Standard Chartered Bank has joined a pilot scheme to issue stored-value 'smart cards' to Hong Kong, Singaporean and Malaysian consumers. The bank will be a smart-card pioneer in Hong Kong. The cards have been described by their promoters as 'PCs [personal computers] on a piece of plastic'. They carry a microchip that stores a variety of information about the card holder and is linked to existing credit and debit card accounts. Users will be able to load funds from their bank accounts on to their cards through automated teller machines, with the price of subsequent purchases being deducted from the card. The MasterCard smart card could also act as a credit or debit card. A pilot programme, scheduled for the fourth quarter of this year and to last nine months, is to be launched by MasterCard International, with the first testing in Canberra, Australia. MasterCard has named Standard Chartered Bank as the participating foreign bank helping to collect data about consumer behaviour on cross-border transactions and any multiple currency features. Nick Fung, Standard Chartered group head of debit and smart cards, said the bank intended to issue three million of the new cards to customers in Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia. Four Australian banks have indicated their support for the pilot scheme, including ANZ, Commonwealth Bank of Australia, National Australia Bank (NAB) and Westpac, representing more than 70 per cent of Australia's credit and debit market. Merchants accepting the cards during the trial period are mainly car service stations, convenience stores and specialty retailers in Canberra. Although Standard Chartered has shown its support for the programme, the Hongkong Bank remains resistant. Assistant general manager Edwin Lau was unconvinced of the future market potential of smart cards. 'The card requires a terminal environment and has to have widespread acceptance from banks and merchants before card holders can enjoy the convenience and security,' he said. Hongkong Bank's sister Midland Bank is working on its 'Mondex' card, a similar type of chip card that would function as an electronic purse. It is understood a number of HSBC Holdings banks will support the Mondex card, to be tested this year.