Visa International has introduced a worldwide migration strategy to help member financial institutes and merchants shift from traditional magnetic stripe cards to advanced, chip-based smartcards. Group executive vice-president Francois Dutray said the purpose of the Partner Programme was to support members in adopting chip technology, believed to be the core component of future global card payment system. 'In the Partner Programme, Visa owns nothing, but only acts as an enabler,' Mr Dutray said. 'Members are given the highest degree of flexibility and control to take the move at their own pace and at the right time, depending on the market readiness. 'They can also customise and differentiate applications on their chip cards.' Visa's smartcard migration project can be divided into four steps. The launching of debit-credit chip cards was the first. Stored-value cards - Visa Cash - and multifunction chip products combining debit, credit, stored-value and members' loyalty programmes came next. Lastly, the company is to develop multifunction Visa cards running on an open chip technology and terminal system. 'It allows service providers to easily develop, modify and implement their applications with worldwide acceptance,' Mr Dutray said. Visa is working now with partners, including JavaSoft, IBM, Gemplus, Philips, Siemens and other technology providers, to develop a Java-based application programming interface (API). The open technology platform will support all types of application, terminal and access device, independent of the operating system. It is expected that Visa will provide the first specification and implementation reference code based on JavaCard API in the fourth quarter of this year. With the concept of an all-in-one smartcard supporting multiple functions such as payment, identification and security, Mr Dutray said that financial applications, including debit, credit and stored value would remain the core of multifunction Visa cards. 'It is not the technological development that is going to slow down, but the capacity of everyone to implement the infrastructure [chip technology].' So far, Visa has launched 18 Visa Cash programmes in 13 countries. By January, there were four million Visa Cash cards, and 6,500 terminals around the world accepting Visa Cash cards. In Hong Kong, reloadable Visa Cash cards, which integrate the Visa Cash function with an existing Visa bank card, were launched two weeks ago. For an annual fee of $80, cardholders can enjoy ATM card services and the reloadable, stored-value card feature that supports reloadable value ranging from $300 to $3,000. Visa also has issued multifunction chip cards in Argentina, Colombia, Spain and South Africa. Similar programmes are to be launched in Britain (combining credit, debit and stored value functions) and Japan (a stored-value credit card) later this year.