E-wallet is on the cards for Web shoppers

The first electronic wallet to be developed in Australia will be demonstrated at Internet World today by small Sydney company, Creative Digital Technologies (CDT).

CDT's Active Wallet is a secure software program that mimics the functions of a physical wallet and is eventually likely to be given away to Internet shoppers by banks, e-commerce service providers or Internet service providers to help them securely manage their online purchases.

In CDT's case, the wallet software will actually store the shopper's details on the bank's or e-commerce service provider's computer, but to the wallet owner it will appear to be on their own computer.

The Active Wallet will support multiple modes of payment, including credit cards, debit cards, electronic cash and prearranged account payments. It will have a bill presentation and payment function and record details of the last 10 purchases made online. Users will also be able to store personal details including their address in the wallet, which will then automatically complete online forms for them at Internet shopping sites.

CDT won't actually launch the wallet until it has partners signed up to provide it to customers and support the electronic transactions. Mr Bahram Boutorabi, chief executive and technology officer with CDT, declined to comment on ongoing negotiations but said he expected it to be released in three to six months by a multinational organisation that could potentially use it worldwide.

Mr Boutorabi described the Active Wallet as a "hybrid".

"The first e-wallets were called 'fat' wallets - they had to be downloaded in full to the customer's computer and they were very big. It was difficult to support the wallet software as there were so many different versions. As developers added features it ws hard to persuade users to upgrade their software," he said.

The latest e-wallet versions are mostly "thin" wallets, where the bulk of the software and the user's data is stored remotely.

With Active Wallet, users get a mirror image of their data on their own computer. They can also choose how the wallet looks on their computer. Family members can choose from 50 different "look and feels".

The Active Wallet complies with the Secure Electronic Transaction standard, which has been developed and backed by a consortium of members, which include Visa, Mastercard, Microsoft and IBM. The standard has expected to be widely supported and rapidly adopted by financial institutions worldwide. In reality, banks have been very slow to adopt the technology.

The wallet is also compliant with the new Electronic Commerce Modeling Language (ECML) standard forr digital wallets. Companies behind the standard include Visa, Mastercard, American Express, America Online, Microsoft, IBM, Sun, Compaq, Cybercash and e-wallet developer Brodia.

The standard ensures e-wallets from different developers will work with all Web sites that accept payments form e-wallets.

CDT is, however, entering a competitive and highly innovative market, with several new companies developing e-wallets backed by novel marketing schemes.

Brodia, one of the leaders in the market, has included features that help customers keep track of online orders still outstanding and creates direct links to merchants' Web sites for ongoing follow-up. It also manages frequent buyer schemes, giving regular buyers discounts on purchases. Discounts can be directed to non-profit groups if the consumer chooses.

Another new US-player is Qpass, which makes the PowerWallet, which is designed to be used on any Web site, making use of artificial intelligence to distinguish between the different sites.

Microsoft has also just re-launched and re-branded its own e-wallet, now in its fourth release. The new Passport wallet has migrated form the user's machine to the remote server.

Microsoft says customers are now confident enough in e-commerce security to be comfortable with their personal computer. The advantage is they can access their e-wallet from any Internet-connected computer.

Microsoft eventually sees users accessing their e-wallet from mobile phones, WebTV and any number of desktop computers.