IN the rush of banks to become the trail blazer in smart cards, Hutchison Whampoa and Dao Heng Bank group staked their claim to fame yesterday - launching a chip-card that is accepted worldwide. With the embedded micro-chip, the card has a built-in bonus counting and redemption feature. But the true breakthrough of the card lies in the fact that it is the world's first VME compatible chip-based programme on offer. In layman terms, the card can be used locally and overseas. Apart from the 300 designated retail outlets of Hutchison Whampao - including Park'N Shop, Watson's, Fortress and Hutchison Telephone - the card can be used in the 12 million Visa merchants worldwide. This feature distinguishes itself from the various so-called chip cards in the market, such as the Jockey Club smart card and the Bank of China Esso MasterCard, which have limited usage. The worldwide acceptance is made possible because the card is based on the newly released specifications on chip card, called VME, which ensures the inter-operability of different chip-card programmes. Managing director of Dao Heng Bank group Kwek Leng-hai said: 'This is our first major move to chip-card technology.' The bank's card base has risen substantially from 35,000 cards two years ago to 170,000 cards now. Canning Fok, group managing director of Hutchison Whampoa, said the group's existing card base was about 50,000 which should go up following the launch of the COMPASSCard. VME stands for Visa-Mastercard-Europay, the three systems that team up to provide an industry-wide standard for chip-card usage. Chip card have recently become something of a frenzy of financial institutions as the microchip theoretically opens up a new world of payment channels. The chip card is supposedly more secure than the ordinary magnetic stripe cards. The multitude of functions the chip can perform is immense, being described as comparable to carrying a personal computer in your wallet. This state-of-the-art technology has sent banks scrambling to be first in the market. Manhattan Card teamed with Golden Harvest to issue a chip card for the purchase of movie tickets. Bank of China allied with Esso to cater for the needs of drivers and issued a fuel card combined with credit-card functions. The COMPASS card has taken the scope of usage much further and has a much wider target customer base than the last two. Not only are banks competing, the two rivals of payment system - MasterCard and Visa - have engaged in a head-on clash. MasterCard scored first with the introduction of the Esso smart card but Visa has won back ground by issuing the first VME compatible chip card.