February 10, 2014
Chip-and-PIN, or Chip-and-Choice?
If the comments that legislators and industry representatives made at the recent congressional hearings on data breaches were any indication, any card issuer advocating or adopting a chip-and-signature approach to EMV smartcard implementation would appear to be incautious. Unquestionably, chip-and-PIN is more secure than chip-and-signature because it represents two forms of authentication—something you have (the card) and something you know (the PIN). However, chip-and-signature could be a reasonable first step in that it would generate less friction for the consumer, merchant, and card issuer. Let me explain why.
Most consumers don't know their credit card PINs
Although most people know their debit card PINs—you need one to use an ATM—few U.S. consumers know their credit card PINs. Various studies place consumers' knowledge of their credit card PINs in the 5 to 10 percent range. It would therefore be an educational as well as logistical effort to get consumers to begin using their credit card PINs if the industry moved to a chip-and-PIN-only environment.
Merchants would incur a big expense for the equipment
Only about 25 percent of the 8 million POS terminals operating in the United States are equipped with a PIN pad, according to data provided to the Federal Reserve. Before Regulation II, merchants had a financial incentive to encourage PIN-based debit transactions because the interchange rate was lower than for credit card transactions. However, Reg II eliminated this differential. (This despite the fact that PIN debit transactions have less than one-third of the fraud loss rate of signature debit transactions, according to the 2013 Fed Payments Study Summary.) Although a representative of the National Retail Federation endorsed a chip-and-PIN-only strategy at a congressional hearing, it's difficult to know if merchants will want to make the additional investment required to equip, program, and maintain their POS systems to support PIN transactions. Most merchants have not yet taken this step, so what has changed?
Customer experience would change
A PIN-based transaction, with its single-message authorization and settlement process, creates problems for certain merchants—like car rental and lodging companies—that must run preauthorization transactions before the final amount of the transaction is determined. The separate authorization and settlement process provided by the dual-message format of a signature-based transaction is more conducive to the business needs of these merchant segments. Are fine dining restaurants going to install the even more expensive mobile payment terminals so customers can pay at the table as they currently do? Or will they require the customer to go to a checkout and pay there? These merchants especially will have to consider the impact on their customer experience.
Backup method needed
With debit cards now, a signature authentication can be a backup method of acceptance. But in a chip-and-PIN environment, how high will the rate of incomplete transactions be when cardholders can't remember their PINs and they have no other method of payment?
As with any change, there are a number of positives and negatives to be considered. To avoid unintended consequences, we at Portals and Rails believe that issuers, merchants, and consumer groups should carefully evaluate all the issues to determine the best way to migrate to EMV payment cards. What do you think—chip-and-PIN only or chip-and-choice?
By David Lott, a retail payments risk expert in the Retail Payments Risk Forum at the Atlanta Fed
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