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Take On Payments, a blog sponsored by the Retail Payments Risk Forum of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, is intended to foster dialogue on emerging risks in retail payment systems and enhance collaborative efforts to improve risk detection and mitigation. We encourage your active participation in Take on Payments and look forward to collaborating with you.

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March 26, 2018


Convenience Always Wins, In One Form or Another

My colleagues and I often write about the frustration that security professionals have that consumer convenience will almost always win over the adoption of more secure practices. We've seen this over the decades with poor password and PIN management and the often lackadaisical approach consumers take to keeping their payment devices safe and secure. This post will take a slightly different tack—it will explore the influence convenience has on the payment card issuance strategy of U.S. financial institutions (FI) and how convenience always seems to win, though sometimes in unexpected ways.

When the various mobile pay wallets were being launched, many observers speculated that they might be the beginning of the end for plastic payment cards. Some, presuming that mobile was a more convenient way to pay, opined that the day would come when FIs would have no reason to continue issuing cards since everyone was going to be using their phones. Although adoption has been increasing, the reality is that mobile payments at the point of sale have been slow to gain traction. Recently released results of a survey of FIs in seven of the Federal Reserve Bank districts revealed that 75 percent of respondents thought it would be at least three years before consumer adoption rates of mobile payments would exceed 50 percent; 40 percent said it would take five years or longer. Consumer surveys consistently indicate that consumers aren't adopting mobile payments because they find their plastic payment card more convenient. So for mobile devices, convenience still has a ways to go.

Some financial-institution-owned ATM operators, continuing efforts to provide alternatives to plastic cards, have recently begun supporting cardless ATM transactions. With this service, you use your FI's mobile banking application to set up or stage an ATM withdrawal, identifying the account and amount to be dispensed. The details of the various technologies differ, but they all work like this: you go to the FI's ATM, select the cardless ATM function, and use a smartphone to either scan a QR bar code or enter a one-time transaction code. (Sometimes you may have to use a PIN.) Nice and convenient! And you don't have to worry about damaged or forgotten cards, or getting your card skimmed. We'll have to wait to see how consumers react to this feature's convenience.

Some FIs currently issue, or plan to issue, dual interface cards when it's time for customers to replace their existing chip card. While costlier to the FI, the new cards include a contactless feature that allows an NFC-enabled terminal such as an ATM or point-of-service device to read the data on the chip when you pass the card within a couple of inches of the reader. Contactless transactions, which are quite popular in Canada and Europe and greatly desired by mass transit systems in the United States, are faster. And we all know that faster means more convenience—right? Like cardless ATM transactions, contactless offers some security benefits. But merchant terminal acceptance remains a concern, just as it has been for the various pay wallet applications.

So it seems that convenience comes in different forms, and it appears that many FIs are betting that, like currency and checks, the plastic payment card is going to be around for quite some time. Perhaps that is the best strategy: offer a wide range of options and let the customers decide for themselves which are the most convenient.

Photo of David Lott By David Lott, a payments risk expert in the Retail Payments Risk Forum at the Atlanta Fed

March 26, 2018 in cards , debit cards , mobile banking , mobile payments | Permalink

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