The Edge Blog

Contactless Payments Called “Devil’s Hocus Pocus” – Part One

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Last week’s The Edge featured a posting on how what consumers say and what they do may be very different when it comes to the adoption of technology.  Specifically, my colleague, Mike Carter, asserted that while consumers consistently state in survey after survey that their reason for not adopting this or that new technology comes from a concern about security, the actions taken by consumers to be more secure when using new technology tells another story.  Netting out Mike’s argument, consumers’ behavior suggests not only that convenience rather than security is the key consideration for whether new technology is adopted, but also shows a near disdain for taking the most basic measures to protect their sensitive data if to do so erodes any of the convenience they would otherwise enjoy.

I would have agreed with Mike until last week when this headline appeared in the UK:  “Northerners denounce contactless payment as 'the Devil's hocus pocus." Obviously, both Mike and I have underestimated just how comprehensively Satan works to use the payments industry as a means of spreading evil.  Or maybe not so much.  The headline was from The Daily Mash - an irreverent news parody site that plays on the farcical notion that those in the northern part of the British Isles are bumpkins while those who reside in the South are allegedly sophisticated, educated and have only ten fingers and toes.

Though parody is by definition something overplayed to prove its absurdity, I do live "up north" in rural Scotland and I have had a number of conversations with small retailers and fellow shoppers on the use of contactless payments as part of my personal crusade to reassure the population of the Kingdom of Fife that contactless payments are secure and safe.  While, to date, no one I have spoken with has specifically mentioned the Devil as a reason for not using contactless payments, I do find myself having more sympathy with the unfortunate Southerner from the Daily Mash article on occasion.

Nonetheless, despite The Daily Mash’s paradox and my experiences in village life, when it comes to contactless payments in the UK, it would appear that – as with the Borg of Star Trek lore – resistance is futile. There are now 109 million contactless cards in circulation in the UK, which may not sound like a lot to some until you do the math.  Give a population of approximately 65 million, including around 15 million children to whom a bank won't issue a card, the “average” adult has two or more contactless cards. Also, if you consider that in the month of April 2017, over 416 million contactless transactions were made by that base of contactless cardholders, you get to a usage rate that suggests this type of card is a staple in the everyday life of many.  This week I contributed to the growing number of contactless transactions by dumping my London Underground Oyster prepaid card in favour of simply paying directly from the contactless card provided to me by my bank.  The burgeoning number of contactless acceptance points, especially in traditionally cash focused establishments such as pubs and cafés, provides – to circle back to Mike’s previous posting – a level of convenience that trumps security fears and makes them a compelling choice.

Prior to the 2003 introduction of EMV chip and PIN cards in the UK that changed the way in which debit and credit cards were used at the point-of-sale, a campaign was undertaken to increase public awareness of how and why the new system was better. Without such an effort, it is unlikely adoption of EMV in the UK would have gone as well as it did.  However, this level of customer education was missing from the contactless launch yet adoption has been rampant.  What’s the difference?

That question will be the topic of discussion in the second part of our look into “the Devil’s hocus pocus."

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