Paid with a wave: latest card up Visa's sleeve
Using your pin will soon be a thing of the past for small transactions, with Visa set to roll out contactless payments in Ireland, after successful trials at last year's London Olympics. A phone payment app (above) is also in the pipeline
At last summer’s Olympics, all the bars, restaurants and shops across the sprawling east London complex hosting the games were fitted with specially adapted terminals that allowed punters to make relatively small purchases with their flexible (and plastic) friends without having to key in a pin or sign a stub.
The aim of the new system was to help people spend money faster, but there were few takers as most people at the games insisted on using cash or credit cards that lacked the latest technology. Those who did casually wave their Visa debit card over the terminals were frequently met with bemused looks from the till operators, who were sometimes clueless about the contactless technology that was being trialled.
What was a novelty last year will become part of everyday life in 2013. You may not have made your first contactless transactions yet but it is only a matter of time. Retailers and restaurants – including, most recently, Marks Spencer and McDonald’s – are rolling them out across their outlets in the Republic. They can also be used in Arnotts, Boots, Insomnia, Centra, Spar, EuroSpar and Mace.
The idea is pleasingly simple. Your purchases are rung up as normal at the till but instead of swiping a card or putting it into a terminal and keying in your four-digit number, you just wave the plastic in the general direction of the machine and as long as you haven’t spent more than €15 you will be on your way. If you go over that limit, you will be asked for your pin number as normal.
But if you don’t need a pin number, what happens if you lose your card? Could you be exposed to serious fraud? The short answer is no. For a start, you are limited to this €15 ceiling in a single transaction, and the total value of consecutive contactless transactions is limited. If you spend a maximum of €45 across any number of retail outlets you will automatically be asked for your pin to prove that your card is actually yours. So the very most you could lose if you lose your card and it is found by a ne’er-do-well is that ceiling of €45.
When Visa was showcasing its new system in London last summer its executives were unsurprisingly gushing. It was, they said, all about making life easier for consumers. The truth is, it is all about making money for Visa.
The one-time credit-card company is spreading its wings and has moved in to the debit-card space in a big way. It is also pushing forward with plans to convert our mobile phones into mobile spending machines, and wants to make our online spending easier by introducing a one-click system for all internet-based transactions.
The company is banking on contactless-card technology and it has the support of the State’s major banks, which have all issued its debit cards to replace the Laser card that served us so well.
When it comes to contactless transactions, Visa has been first out of the blocks and is already reaping the rewards. Figures released last month showed annual Irish consumer spending on Visa cards, including debit, credit and prepaid cards, hit €15.5 billion in 2012, up 17 per cent on the previous year. Nearly 15 per cent of all money Irish consumers spent last year was spent on a Visa card. The surge in Visa spending when we all have no money is down to its debit cards. All told, the number of Visa debit, credit and prepaid cards issued last year climbed by 43 per cent while the number of transactions last year went up by 26 per cent.