The U.S. is at least 10 years behind most of the developed world in adopting a credit card technology, called chip and pin. The technology is more effective in warding off hack attacks that target consumer credit card information than traditional magnetic stripe card.
Hoping to push for higher standards in the U.S., President Obama issued an executive order on Friday that requires use of chip and pin technology in government settings. Chip and pin technology, as its name suggests, replaces older magnetic stripe cards with cards that use microchips that encrypt customer account information during transactions at the register. When consumers swipe their cards, they also enter an identifying number that further secures the transaction.
While the president's order applies to government-issued credit cards and credit card payments that happen in the government context, including social security and other benefits, the hope is that the order will push adoption in the consumer context.
"Starting next year, we’re going to begin making sure that credit cards and credit-card readers issued by the United States government come equipped with two new layers of protection: a microchip in the card that’s harder for thieves to clone than a magnetic strip, and a pin number you enter into the reader just as you do with an ATM," President Obama said at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau on Friday.
In fact, a number of large consumer companies have joined in the president's push to start using the technology by January of 2015. American Express, Walmart and Walgreens will participate, as will Home Depot and Target, two companies that lost information related to the credit card accounts of tens of millions of their customers in recent months.
Payment companies such as American Express, Mastercard and Visa have had initiatives under way for quite some time to migrate to the more secure technology in the U.S., experts say. And small business owners should pay attention, because starting in October, 2015, the major credit card companies will shift liability for fraud to merchants who haven't upgraded their terminals to the chip and pin standard, as well as to banks that are still issuing the older magnetic stripe cards.
To speed chip and pin adoption along, American Express announced last week it's offering its smallest merchants, which it defines as those who do less than $3 million in payment volume on its cards, $100 toward an upgrade of their card machines. (Its donation is capped at a total of $10 million, and merchants can apply for the money between February and April 2015, AmEx says.)
That may be just a drop in the bucket, however. Terminals can cost up to $600 or more, according to CEB TowerGroup, and for merchants with multiple machines, the costs can soon add up.
"Many small businesses are unaware of [chip and pin] and don’t understand it or how it applies to them or how to participate in the system," says Anré Williams, president of global merchant services for American Express. "We want to help them to understand their options and to upgrade current terminals… or to buy entirely new systems."
But full implementation of the chip and pin standard is expected to take several years. By the end of 2017, about 90 percent of debit and 98 percent of credit cards should be upgraded to the chip and pin standard, according to the research company Aite Group.