RealTime IT News

Spain's Banesto Pushes Virtu@lCash Plus

Amidst growing competition for online customers, the Banco Espaqol de Cridito, S.A. (Banesto) has spent all month launching the market infrastructure for Virtu@lCash Plus, "the first virtual card you can touch."

Hailed as the first effort of its kind, Virtu@alCash Plus is a free, Internet-only plastic debit card that users can recharge at any of the more than 10,000 4B network ATM machines. Any individual (such as a parent) can recharge another's card online, though only the cardbearer will be able to spent the up-to-35,000 pesetas ($208) limit.

"The Virtu@al Cash card can't be used in the physical world ... to use Virtu@alCash money, you have to use a Virtu@alCash store," said Julian Inza, Banesto's director of technological strategy. "And you can only spend the amount already charged to the card."

Currently about 20,000 Spanish clients have access to the cards, though Banesto plans to distribute a million more in coming months. Since unveiling Virt@alCash Plus earlier this month, the bank has added more than fifty online stores, and plans to add close to 2000 by year's end.

The growing number of Spanish online establishments accepting this payment option are listed at www.escaparate.com. Future plans include applying the card to long distance phone calls.

Inza said Banesto decided against extending the card's purchasing power to offline buys mainly as a way to avoid combining the risks of both the virtual and physical commerce.

"This security option is especially important for parents," he added. "I'm especially trustworthy of Internet transactions, but what I am reluctant to do is to give my VISA number to my son."

Moreover, since online stores never actually see the the card numbers used in purchases, they are permitted "more relaxed security standards." Banesto touts card use as "free and anonymous."

Banesto is a pioneer in Spanish online banking, launching the first e-commerce transaction in 1995. In 1997, it was the first Spanish bank to realize such a transaction using SET technology, though slow SET growth has, in Spanish e-commerce circles, come to mean "Still Expecting Transactions."

In a further push toward hurdling the Catch-22 barriers to e-commerce, Banesto last week joined the Net developer Onirica to give out free open source Cibertienda software. This bet on Linux technology includes a free "shopping cart" application and offers an online forum for e-commerce developers.