NYC Subway’s new way to pay has banks in a rush to update cards

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New Yorkers won’t have to worry much longer about perfecting their subway swipe.

More than 20 years after the initial switch to MetroCards from tokens, the Metropolitan Transit Authority is unveiling the ability to use tap-to-pay credit and debit cards for subway and bus fares. And it’s not just public transportation. Visa Inc. says 80 of the top 100 U.S. retailers now accept the cards, with companies including Target Corp. and CVS Health Corp. adding the technology in recent months.

“Mass transit is a really terrific use case for tap and pay -- people commute 10 times a week,” Visa Chief Executive Officer Al Kelly said in a Bloomberg Television interview. “It gets them in the habit of using the card to tap and go.”\
The transition has prompted banks around the country to quickly update cards. JPMorgan Chase & Co. was the first major lender to commit to tap-and-go technology for its entire portfolio of credit and debit cards, in November, and Bank of America Corp. and Wells Fargo & Co. made similar announcements months later. Outside the U.S., almost half of all in-store transactions use the tapping technology.

New York subway riders will be able to use tap-to-pay credit and debit cards or mobile payments at stations along the 4-5-6 line between Grand Central and Barclays Center beginning on May 31. At first, the new payment system -- known as OMNY, for One Metro New York -- will be available only on a pay-per-ride basis. The MTA plans to roll out additional fare options in late 2020, when contactless entrance will be available across the entire subway system and for all buses.

“As we’ve seen around the world, and why we’re so excited about the MTA, is transit is the most important use case because it builds that habituation, that muscle memory,” said Oliver Jenkyn, head of North America for Visa. “When Chase and the MTA take action, they move markets.”

Visa predicts that the number of contactless cards issued in the U.S. will rise to 300 million by the end of 2020 from 100 million at the end of this year. JPMorgan alone has handed out close to 20 million cards with the functionality, said Abeer Bhatia, president of card marketing, pricing and innovation for the bank.

The move may help banks’ bottom lines. They could boost profits by $2.4 billion by transitioning to contactless cards, researchers at A.T. Kearney led by Monica Gabel said in a report last year. That’s because tap-and-go transactions often replace cash.

Bhatia said that JPMorgan cardholders have picked up the tap-to-pay motion “reasonably quickly,” and that the functionality has made in-store transactions quicker and easier for cardholders. It’s even popular among consumers who have never used mobile payment options such as Apple Pay or Google Pay, he said.

“There’s a big segment that never used mobile wallets, but the moment they got their contactless cards, they’re starting to tap right away,” Bhatia said. “When they have the choice to use either, they’re overwhelmingly using tap-to-pay versus mobile wallets.”

There’s still work to be done. Close to 40% of payment terminals in the U.S. aren’t yet contactless. And there are major holdouts, such as Walmart Inc. and Nordstrom Inc., that have been hesitant to accept the technology because it would also mean accepting mobile-payment options that may compete with their own offerings.

“I expect that as customers get used to it and merchants see that customers are delighted by the experience, the reality is that adoption will start to take off,” Visa CEO Kelly said. “Our experience around the world is that the first 10% is the hardest 10% to get and, after that, there’s a snowball effect and it really takes off.”

The New York subway’s transition alone could be a boon for Visa and rival Mastercard Inc. Analysts at Mizuho Securities USA led by Thomas McCrohan said in a note to clients this week that it could add $40 million in annual revenue for Visa and $27 million for Mastercard once OMNY is fully implemented, in 2021. The two card networks could see an additional 2.5 billion transactions from the subway each year after the transition, the analysts estimated. Mastercard expects more than 20 cities across the U.S. to add the technology to their transit systems in the next few years.

JPMorgan is on track to have half its cards converted to contactless technology by the end of 2019, Bhatia said. While the lender was initially focused on adding the functionality to its credit cards, it will begin adding it to its debit cards later this year as well.

“The biggest reason that things are moving at this pace and not immediately is there are only so many vendors that can make them,” Bhatia said. “There’s huge demand from us and others in the industry too.”

Bloomberg News
Contactless payments Transportation technology Payment processing