UK leads e-Money revolution

E-Day

It is not everyday that the United Kingdom is seen to be leading the European Union (EU), never mind the rest of the world, but on Saturday April 27 2002-E Day--Britain became the first member state to implement the EU directive covering the issuing of electronic money. The British, of course, responded to this momentous event with traditional disinterest.

E-Money is one of those areas of business whose public profile waxes and wanes with little rhyme or reason. However, it is clear that there is a real need for safe and secure methods of handling money in an electronic format to be both devised and, more importantly still, widely deployed at both national and international levels. Thus one would think that E Day would be greeted with at least a modicum of fanfare, but the reality was somewhat different. Indeed, a quick poll indicated that there was a near uniform ignorance of the event.

As of E-Day, anybody that wishes to issue electronic money can do so as long as they satisfy a number of core criteria specified by the Financial Services Authority (FSA), without having to first obtain a banking license. In essence this means that as long as the issuers of the e-money can meet the capital requirements of one million Euros or 2 percent of the e-money to be issued, they are free to do so. There is a limit of one thousand pounds sterling on the maximum 'purse' value; the e-money must be redeemable within five days and the currency must be usable for at least one year.

It is widely expected that a number of companies, from mobile phone giants, credit card organisations and even the Post Office, are actively considering launching their own e-money offerings. However, any organisation meeting the basic FSA criteria can set up e-money for themselves. Indeed, at the small scale end of the market some of the more onerous requirements can be waived. Such a waiver could make it possible for a school or small business to set up cashless payment systems internally without having to possess a million Euro worth of capital in the first place.

It will be interesting to see how things develop from here and how swiftly e-money offerings make it on to the streets of Britain. Any organisation entering the market will certainly face a stiff user credibility test. After all, whom would you trust to issue you with money, electronic or otherwise? If e-money is to become a reality there is clearly a potential for fraud to take place unless the public at large are brought up to speed on the basics, such as "Who to trust?", "What to look for?", "How does it work?".

Beyond this there is a need to let potential issuers know the benefits they could obtain through the use of e-money and any pitfalls to avoid. We shall have to keep an eye out to see if any of the marketing machines of the big brand names jump onto the e-money bandwagon.

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