Credit Card Processors: The Weak Spot in EMV Adoption
Not being content to accept the word of carefully selected congressional witnesses, I did some checking on my own. I started with my ophthalmologist where I paid my co-pay with a card that has an EMV chip and requires a PIN. This caused consternation among the office staff. As it turned out, the doctor's credit card processor had changed out their terminal the same morning, but hadn't explained to anyone how to handle it. I provided an unscheduled training session on chip-and-PIN transactions so that I could pay my bill. Then after the hearings, I called the owner of the legendary Trummers on Main restaurant in the Washington, D.C., suburbs and asked co-owner Stefan Trummer whether they were accepting chip cards. They weren't, he said, even though he was aware of the requirement due to communications through the restaurant association in Washington. His credit card processor had never mentioned them, discussed how to upgrade their point-of-sale system or how to acquire the terminals they needed. Next, I called the owner of a local camera store, who asked not to be identified because he didn't want to expose the vulnerability, and I was told a similar story, except that his credit card processor said that his point-of-sale system would never be able to be upgraded. I called a local jewelry store owner and got a similar story. On their own, the credit card processors in the D.C. area are much like those the congressional witnesses discussed—meaning that they're happy to let their merchants twist in the wind as long as they are protected. Fortunately, there are other stories. I visited my local Acura dealer after the testimony and talked about EMV with the general manager, Lenny Gonzales. Gonzales said that he had been discussing the need to accept credit cards with chips for several months. He said that while the dealership normally doesn't sell vehicles as credit card purchases, they play a big role in the company's service department. Gonzales was happy to report that his company accepts EMV credit cards, not to mention Apple Pay.
The unfortunate news is that stories like those of my eye doctor or at the Acura dealership are far too rare. For merchants that aren't technically sophisticated, the path to a secure payment system is not at all clear. Even more unfortunate, it's being obfuscated by groups representing the payment card industry that are openly derisive of the merchants' concerns. Merchants and ultimately their customers aren't the concern, it seems, as long as the payment card folks get their money.