I was on the phone with a customer service representative at Bank of America asking about one of their Visa cards with an EMV chip. I knew I was going to Germany in January, and I wanted to have the proper cards for when I went. Sadly, the conversation wasn’t encouraging. “Those aren’t available in the United States,” the representative said.
“You mean I can’t get a card with a chip from anyone?” I asked. “No,” she said, “you can’t use those in the U.S.” While the representative was talking, I was looking at images of Visa cards from her bank, with EMV chips clearly shown. I thanked the representative for her help and hung up.
Next I called American Express. “We aren’t offering cards with chips in the U.S. yet,” the customer service representative told me. I looked at the Amex card in my hand where I’d found the toll-free number that I was calling. I turned it over to reveal the EMV chip embedded in it already. “So if I have an American Express card with a chip, can I get a PIN number for it?” I asked. “No,” he said, “we don’t offer those in the United States.”
If anything helped explain the seemingly confused state of the EMV chip conversion in the U.S., this lack of up-to-date information on the part of the folks who issue credit cards certainly explained at least some of it. But clearly, it didn’t really explain everything.
If things were that far behind in the U.S., why was it that I’ve been able to make purchases at Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club using cards with EMV chips and PINs for months now?
The problem, I decided, must be that the customer service staffs at some financial institutions were out of touch. Unfortunately, this isn’t very helpful if you’re trying to use a more secure credit card technology or if you’re a business trying to make sure that you use the most secure technology available. There’s nothing quite as frustrating as calling your credit card issuer and being told that you can’t accept payments the way you want.
Fortunately, the cluelessness isn’t everywhere. When I called representatives at these companies who actually deal with the transition to secure payments, it became apparent that there is significant progress. Unfortunately, the progress is somewhat uneven, and worse, it’s not clearly understood within the organizations that are actually deploying the technology.
MasterCard, for example, is putting forth a major public relations effort trying to get the word out. It’s time to get ready for the Liability Shift, MasterCard says, which is coming in October. But MasterCard isn’t being all that specific on what this exactly means. So in case you’re wondering, here’s what it all boils down to.
As of Oct. 1, 2015, merchants could be on the hook if someone pays for a purchase using a bogus credit card if you don’t have the ability to use EMV chip credit cards. If you do have an EMV-capable credit card reader and the card presented to you passes muster with your bank, then the bank will continue to accept the liability if the card is counterfeit, stolen, etc.
EMV Credit Card Deployments to Make Gradual Progress in 2015
Otherwise the cash comes out of your company’s pocket because banks are no longer accepting liability for bogus cards.
For their part, the major card issuers are well along with the conversion to EMV chips. Most of the new credit cards issued have the chips. As cards are replaced, those will also have EMV chips embedded. With most card issuers, you can request that your next credit card is equipped with the chip. But as I noticed, a lot depends on whom you talk to.
For merchants, the process is fairly easy but not necessarily inexpensive. “Almost a third of merchants have a terminal that is chip-ready,” said Kimberly Lawrence, senior vice president for Global Corporate Initiatives at Visa.
Lawrence said that many retail outlets simply haven’t enabled the software that’s already installed on their point-of-sale terminals to process chip-enabled credit cards. For those merchants, a call to their bank or processor is all that’s required. Lawrence did note that some merchants with highly integrated point-of-sale systems will require more work than just a call to their banks.
Lawrence also noted that card readers that work with EMV chips are readily available. Costco began selling chip-enabled terminals some time ago, as has Square, which is popular with very small businesses.
“There are some interesting low-cost solutions,” Lawrence said. One of those is a chip-enabled terminal that Costco will begin selling in February for $99, according to Costco’s director of business and financial services, Jay Smith.
As it turns out, all of the major card issuers have moved to issuing EMV-equipped cards and getting them into the hands of customers, which is the second half of the process.
“Today, all of American Express’ U.S. consumer, small business and corporate card products are available with EMV chip and signature for Card Members who request them,” American Express spokesperson Nina Chang said in an email to eWEEK. Chang noted that all of the company’s personal and corporate cards are available with chips.
Visa International, meanwhile, is moving steadily ahead as well. The company has launched a new Website that explains the technology to those at any stage in the EMV chip and PIN deployment process.
But what about the PINs that go with those chip cards? Right now, most EMV cards will be the chip and signature type. But at least there’s some progress there, since a few big merchants such as Wal-Mart accept chip and PIN cards.
Otherwise, there will be a wait. “Regarding chip and PIN, in the U.S., there is still work that must be done and investments that must be made across many payment industry stakeholder groups, including issuers, acquirers and merchants, to ensure seamless chip and PIN usability at the Point-of-Sale,” Chang said.
But does that mean that you can call up your bank and get a card with a chip? The best answer is “maybe.” The same is true if you’re trying to accept such cards and avoid the liability shift. Just keep trying when you get the clueless customer service staffer, and if you’re lucky, you’ll get someone who knows.