Visa plans to accelerate acceptance/use of EMV cards in U.S.

In Summer 2011 Visa announced plans to accelerate the acceptance and use of EMV cards throughout the U.S. EMV cards are also known as IC or Chip cards. This announcement was no surprise as EMV has been a long accepted standard through Europe and Asia. However, to make the entire network EMV ready requires all the participants in the market to adapt their systems. Chip cards will need to be issued, the acquirer/processors must adapt their host systems and the terminals at the POS will need to be replaced.

Accompanying the announcement Visa published a road map stating the following:

  1. Visas Technology Innovation Program (TIP) will be expanded into the U.S., effective October 2012.
    This means Visa will waive the annual validation of a merchant’s PCI/DSS compliance, as long as at least 75% of the merchant’s transactions originate from dual-interface EMV terminals. Dual-interface terminals are terminals that can process contact and contactless EMV transactions.
  2. All participating acquirer/processors have to make their systems EMV ready by April 2013.
  3. Visas global POS Counterfeit Liability Shift Program will be extended into the U.S., effective October 2015 (two years later for petrol merchants).
    This program will transfer the liability for fraud originating from non-EMV transactions to the acquirer/processor, and as a result to the merchant as seen in other countries.

This plan clearly focuses on two goals:

  1. Reducing fraud.
  2. Setting the benchmark for NFC based card acceptance (for example; contactless payment by card or mobile phone).

In recent years the U.S. has been an easy target for fraud. In 2008, fraudulent transactions made up 0.04% or USD 8 billion of the complete U.S. turnover of credit card transactions. Card numbers are being stolen all across the world and used in the U.S. to commit fraud. The predominant number of magstripe POS terminals makes this a relatively easy way to commit fraud. With the adoption of the liability shift program one large fraudulent region will be eliminated, as seen in other countries that already run the program. Once this has been achieved, the question remains: Where will the fraud move next? Until chip cards are used worldwide, magstripe fraud will remain a global problem.

Interestingly, the liability shift program is a sweet deal for Visa as it will instantly and largely increase the points of acceptance for NFC based cards. Conversely, it will be a cost intensive change for the merchants as it forces them into changing their POS infrastructure into dual-interface EMV terminals. This sets the ground for Visas contactless program Pay Wave and for mobile payment. Google already provides a nice solution with its wallet, where the phone emulates an NFC payment card.

This is where we believe it gets really interesting. In contrast to Europe where cardholder authentication through PIN is usually required, Visa aims for an online / non-PIN model in the U.S. which will pave the way for contactless transactions. Wave the card and that’s it, no PIN entry required. Issuers and acquirer/processors will be happy with this, as it lessens the costs and complexity on the card and the terminal.

In contrast to all of this, one can see an increasing market for “easy” magstripe transactions. Square, amongst others, provides an easy way for merchants to accept magstripe cards. Up to April 2011 Square has seen USD137M total flow. These payment solutions target small businesses and make it very easy to accept credit cards as a merchant. Common to all these solutions are high transaction fees for the merchant and the full risk of chargebacks. What some people might not know is that Visa invested in Square. There seems to be a two way strategy in pushing the mid and large size businesses into accepting contactless EMV cards and enabling small businesses to accept credit cards on their full risk. Clearly a winner for Visa! But what do they actually do for it?

In the longer term magstripe transactions will disappear. Issuers will simply stop issuing magstripe cards. This has already started in some Eastern European countries. The main reason is fraud, but also because there is new technology that makes cards obsolete. The “card” itself might not be a “card” anymore, but a mobile phone, key fob or all sorts of mediums carrying the chip. While it may take several years to fully implement, it is interesting to wonder how small businesses will be targeted.

Abrantix is a payment software engineering company and has extensive knowledge around card payments and EMV. Abrantix also sell an EMV Level 2 Kernel.