Updated for 2020!

This began as a comment to the article “What Will the Arrival of Contactless Payments Bring?” I aim to dive a bit deeper into my positions within the confines of a full post. Since this affects you, credit union staff (and member), I’d really like to hear your thoughts.

Feel free to comment with what your credit union has done so far on EMV and contactless transition and education, as well as planning for “the next” payment method. Now enjoy the post! It will take about 5 minutes to read.

New Complexity Beats Old Simplicity?

As the slow transition to faster, easier, and more secure payment technology eases on, I cannot help but wonder what everyone’s talking about. It’s like we are under some collective delusion that makes us think new complexity beats old simplicity.

Think of paying for something in 2002. As long as you weren’t that person writing a check, you had two options: Cash or plastic. Cash exchanged hands, change was given…done.

Plastic got swiped (or inserted if you’re from Europe). You signed (which was always dumb) or entered a PIN. Transaction approved (or declined). Get receipt and move on with life.

Now, in 2020, we continue the effort to replace simple and “fix it” with something more complicated. Or simpler? Some endorse using cash only, others suggest using pre-paid debit through Simple, PayPal, or another fin tech company.

EMV to the Rescue? Well…

Then the credit unions stepped up. You’ve got that fancy new EMV chip card. Oh, and there’s ApplePay, Android Pay, Samsung Pay… If you follow my writing, you’ll know how strongly I support more secure payment methods.

I’m not saying we go backwards, just move ahead with some careful thought. Since consumers and merchant staff will always default to simple, we need to ensure that’s also the preferred method. And if they have to pay, they won’t.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t you just finish up an industry-wide card reissue? Something about a chip? Right, and EMV is hard enough, as some merchants still have swipe-only POS units, and many others with the chip slot taped over (and those where it just doesn’t work consistently).

Then there’s the ongoing updates needed (on merchant and processor side) to accelerate the slow authentication process. So EMV is not quite there, despite what you read. And not doing as much in person in 2020 didn’t help.

Obligatory COVID-19 Mention

Of course, COVID-19 put a wrench in the effort, but it also opened a door to making more change. Contactless is now a healthier, safer option. So that’s nice!

Restaurants are a known challenge, with waiters taking your card to a single POS that’s often swipe-only. Then there’s gas pumps…

(I know, I know, there’s different rules for them, but, really? You don’t gain widespread consumer adoption by having it only sometimes be the standard.)

Also, I get that restaurants are struggling with in person dining. That is a real society challenge and it is so sad to watch fabulous restaurants (and their team) need to close. Using this tech to empower takeout and online ordering is helpful.

Contactless (ApplePay and other Mobile Wallets)

So, contactless, let’s see if that is our simple path forward. What is contactless? Essentially, it’s anything besides swiping or sticking the card into the EMV slot.

Almost every machine that accepts EMV also has the NFC chip needed for contactless. However, whether its enabled is another matter altogether. It often isn’t. There is a direct cost to use some of these services, so I get the reluctance.

Then, if the screen says it works, there’s a 20% chance it won’t (unscientific number based on rough recall of my life experience). At one large grocery chain, I tried my Apple Watch and it subsequently crashed the entire register, taking it out of commission until they could get it rebooted.

The staff had never seen anyone try ApplePay (or any contactless), and their suggestion was to, “let’s not”. FYI: The terminal had the ApplePay logo showing as a payment method.

Phones & Watches are too Simple: Let’s Do Cards?

And now, just as financial institutions have put all that time, money, and labor into the EMV reissue, some advice is to offer a new contactless card? Why? Your phone has it. Your watch has it.

And what do you think untrained staff will say when you start waving your card in front of the machine?

“Um, you have to swipe it or insert into the slot, sir.” “No, it’s contactless.” “Uh, ok, I think someone got that working here once, but it doesn’t always work.”

(I guarantee that one success was a phone using Samsung Pay, which uses a different technology…just to add to the confusion)

My Behaviors (Which Aren’t Normal)

I strive to use ApplePay on every purchase due to the incredible security and privacy it offers. I always ask if it’s accepted if I don’t see the logo on the POS, and not a single time has the employee given a straight answer.

Merchants (especially large ones) do not train for it, and until I can pay for 100% of items, 100% of the time with contactless, it is an exercise in futility to talk about issuing contactless cards. Talk about setting unreachable expectations with your members.

Not to mention that I spend very little time physically at any merchant now. Good thing ApplePay is easy to see for online purchases.

Continually Changing Payment Style Is Unproductive

Here’s why:

  • People do what’s habit. Habit isn’t formed by inserting a card into a slot sometimes, swiping in other places, waving it where able (but not knowing for sure ahead of time), and then forgetting their wallet and doing the same with their phone or watch, the latter of which being unknowns if they’ll even work.
  • Most people aren’t early-adopters. If you tell members they can now wave their new card at a terminal…they won’t. I wave my watch at every terminal, but even the average Apple Watch owner doesn’t go that far.
  • If it’s at all confusing, people won’t bother. Swipe, insert, wave, or just use your phone. That’s a lot of possibilities and if you watch people when paying, you can see many get frustrated at having to “figure it out” every time they pay now. And that’s just between swiping and inserting.
  • Looking stupid in public is the biggest obstacle. If someone gives one of these “new” payment methods a try, and it has lag, errors, or other problems, they will never try it again. Imagine feeling those judgmental eyes (from a socially-distant gaze).

TL;DR: This is a long way of saying: If you are really interested in offering your members contactless payment options, just ensure ApplePay and Google Pay is supported. That’s it. Done. Because I can guarantee neither staff nor members want to start learning about another new card.