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The Green Sheet Online Edition

November 22, 2010 • Issue 10:11:02

Contactless taps new markets

By Dale S. Laszig
Castles Technology Co. Ltd.

It's faster than cash, so what's taking contactless so long to become a mainstream payment method in the United States? Most payments industry analysts agree that contactless technology, which is easy to implement and popular worldwide, may take longer to be fully embraced by U.S. merchants and consumers.

Thanks to the efforts of card brands and their technology partners, we've graduated from early pilots and processor certifications to an affordable family of contactless-ready terminals and peripheral readers. Consumers can confidently tap or wave credit cards, key fobs and assorted devices in lanes and counters across the country.

Slow start for fast payments

So why aren't more people doing it? It's taking time for consumers to notice the contactless cards on their key chains and in their wallets and understand the benefits of using this alternative payment method. Retailers have been cautious about adopting contactless technology, too. Best Buy Co. Inc. mandated only PIN-based contactless transactions, leading to the discontinuance of Visa Inc.'s payWave at its stores. Most contactless cards are dual-purpose, supporting both contactless and mag stripe, so currently Visa cards can be swiped, but not waved at Best Buy.

Also, unlike markets in Asia and Europe, where contactless payments are popular, the infrastructure in the United States has dampened contactless adoption because it is built more on mag stripe reader technology than on smart card and microprocessor technology.

Contactless taking hold

The rollout may be slow, but there are signs the U.S. market is ripe for contactless payments. Beyond the faster transaction times, there's more security and control with contactless payments, because the card, key fob or smart phone used at the POS never leaves consumers' hands. Contactless is also a more fraud-proof technology: the microprocessor used in contactless payments is harder to hack into than traditional mag stripe schemes. Contactless payments can also be paired with gift, frequency and loyalty programs to create rewards and incentives.

Additionally, along with the success of pilots of Visa's payWave, MasterCard Worldwide's PayPass, American Express Co.'s ExpressPay and Discover Financial Service's Zip, there are ongoing systems integration efforts at the host, carrier and gateway level that will seamlessly fold these and other emerging technologies into a congruent, commercial processing framework. Here are additional indications that contactless acceptance in the United States is catching on:

  • Our increasing mobility: The primary game changer will probably be the push to pay by mobile phone. Europe, Southeast Asia and other regions have seamlessly incorporated mobile phone payment transactions into legacy processing infrastructures.

  • Killer form factor: Earlier entries, such as the key fob or the credit card with embedded chip, were cool but got lost in the shuffle. We're running out of room on the key ring and in the wallet. So many plastic products compete for our attention that it's easy to forget which ones have embedded chips that can be tapped or waved. In contrast, we have only one or two mobile phones. The tipping point will occur when more people realize they can leave their wallets at home.

  • There's an app for that: As we depend more on mobility and connectedness, our mobile devices have become much more than phones. They are compasses that navigate the changing landscape of interconnected mobile enterprises. Our always-on digital assistants help us stay connected through email, social media, geolocation and mobile networks with ever-increasing voice and data capacities. Adding payments to the mix is a no-brainer.

  • Enhanced security and privacy: When a mobile phone is used as a contactless payments device, it automatically becomes more secure. The microprocessor contains an identifier that's linked to sensitive cardholder data, but the details and bank information registered to the device are stored remotely. Transactions are more secure and compliant with most Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard requirements.

  • Easy to sell and install: Selling and supporting smart phone transactions is relatively easy. Many countertop terminals and customer-facing devices are already contactless-enabled. Peripheral contactless readers can be added to late-model hardware and virtual processing systems. The function is included in most processing software, requiring only a partial download or parameter change and no heavy investment in equipment or training.

  • Continuing contactless initiatives: A pilot program, code name Mercury, involving AT&T Inc., Verizon Wireless Inc., Barclays Bank PLC, and Discover will test smart phones equipped with contactless microprocessing chips at POS readers in select markets in 2011. Consumers will be able to wave or tap their phones to initiate payments. And, in a pilot in the New York City subway system, MasterCard and Visa are testing contactless MetroCards that can be waved instead of swiped at turnstiles.

A trend to watch

Contactless initiatives, the relentless efforts of manufacturers of contactless chips and readers, and the increasing adoption of mobile technology will continue to drive mass acceptance of contactless technology.

The growing contactless trend promises increased adoption of all forms of contactless payments as consumers and merchants become more comfortable with tapping and waving. We're even seeing contactless options at self-attended venues such as pay-at-the-pump, quick-service restaurants and vending machines. So stay alert; you don't want to miss this important new wave. end of article

Dale S. Laszig is Vice President of Sales in the United States for Castles Technology Co. Ltd., a manufacturer and global provider of smart card, contactless and POS solutions. She can be reached at 973-930-0331 or dale_laszig@castech.com.tw.

Notice to readers: These are archived articles. Contact names or information may be out of date. We regret any inconvenience.

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