Q&A with Graham Bendell, Director of Operations, Smart Card Society of Southern Africa
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CTA. 2003. Q&A with Graham Bendell, Director of Operations, Smart Card Society of Southern Africa. ICT Update Issue 13. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands
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Smart card technology could allow ACP countries to leapfrog stages of financial sector development because it eliminates the need for costly and comprehensive infrastructure. Graham Bendell, Director of Operations at the Smart Card Society of Southern Afr
What is a smart card? Smart cards look like standard plastic cards but are equipped with an embedded microchip, or integrated circuit (IC) chip. This chip can store information, carry out local processing on the stored data and perform complex calculations. Smart cards come in two forms: contact cards, which require a card reader, and contactless cards, which use Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) signals to transfer data. Some cards can contain programming and data to support multiple applications and may also be updated to add new applications after they are issued. Well over a billion smart cards are already in use worldwide. At present they are most widely used in Europe, but ACP countries are becoming increasingly important markets, and are inventing innovative applications of standard smart card technology geared to the needs of their own populations. What are the advantages of smart cards for ACP countries? Smart cards can store more than a thousand times more data than the common magnetic strip card. Depending on the durability of the plastic used, they can store data for more than 10 years, and can be read or written to more than a million times. Moreover, compared with conventional data transmission devices such as magnetic strip cards, smart cards offer enhanced security, convenience and many other benefits. The software security system used for these cards is as fraud-proof as those used by leading international banks. Data can be encrypted and transferred securely via both wired and wireless networks. Personal user identity information such as a digitized photo, a signature and unique ´biometric´ details (fingerprints, iris scans or facial features) can be stored on the card to prevent people other than the card owner from using it. Smart cards are also more user-friendly than other data storage and transmission devices because they do not need any backup on paper or floppy disk. Unlike floppies, they are almost completely unaffected by heat, dust and humidity, and can not be ´corrupted´ by magnetic fields or computer viruses. Perhaps the most important aspect of smart card technology, particularly from an ACP perspective, is the fact that it requires minimal and inexpensive infrastructure, and can thus easily be implemented in rural areas. Moreover, this technology significantly reduces the administration costs of, for instance, providing financial services, in that it eliminates the need to maintain paper records. How are smart cards being applied? Smart card technology is currently being applied to bank account cards, national identity cards, driving licences and health records, and is being used to promote e-governance and voter registration. One of the most promising recent developments in Africa has been the adoption of smart cards by banks and microfinance institutions. The Smart Card Society of Southern Africa, together with the Nigerian Smart Card Society, is actively promoting a number of initiatives in this field. In South Africa, for example, pensioners are now issued with a smart card with which they can draw their monthly welfare payments from automated teller machines (ATMs) mounted in vehicles that travel to rural areas. This card will be replaced in 2004 by the National Electronic Identity Card, currently being developed by the South African government in conjunction with local banks. This chip-based ID card will store, among other things, electronic bank account details and a digitized version of the cardholder´s fingerprint. The South African Post Office (SAPO) has also recently launched an initiative to encourage the ´unbanked´ - the millions of people who currently do not have access to financial services - to open bank accounts. Customers are issued with a smart card, which stores personal details, account number, a record of transactions and a digitized fingerprint. This is a major step forward in bringing financial services to the 70% of the population who currently do not have bank accounts. South Africa is making rapid progress in introducing smart card technology, and is gradually bridging the gap in the provision of financial and other services to both urban and rural populations. Graham Bendell is Director of Operations, Smart Card Society of Southern Africa.
- CTA ICT Update