Some 15 years after the first EMV chip cards appeared, less than half of all payment cards worldwide conform to the EMV chip card standard, underscoring the slow, gradual speed EMV card deployments generally require.

The latest data on EMV adoption comes from EMVCo , which this month announced that as of December last year, 1.5 billion payment cards were equipped with an EMV chip, up 50% from 1 billion in September 2010, the last time the United Kingdom-based organization released comparable data.

The numbers suggest that most U.S. issuers likely will not switch the majority of their cards from magnetic stripe to EMV card technology by 2015, when the card networks' initial liability shifts related to EMV kick in for domestic issuers and merchants, experts speculate.

"Historically, it takes about 10 years for a market to fully adopt EMV" from the time organizations announce EMV-compliance incentive deadlines and full compliance, George Peabody, director of emerging technologies at Mercator Advisory Service, tells PaymentsSource.

Though the card networks have laid out some "pretty aggressive deadlines" here, it could take the U.S. many years to complete the process, Peabody says.

Some 44.7% of all payment cards worldwide now carry an EMV chip, up from 36% that did at the end of the third quarter of 2010, EMVCo said in a May 8 press release.

Worldwide, EMV-active terminals rose 42.2%, to 21.9 million at the end of 2011 from 15.4 million in September 2010, the group said. That represents 76.4% of all terminals, up from 65% at the end of the third quarter of 2010 , EMVco said.

Formed in 1999, EMVCo manages EMV card specifications and is jointly owned by MasterCard Worldwide, Visa Inc., American Express Co. and JCB.

Visa last year laid out incentives for card issuers and merchants to adopt EMV technology (see story).

MasterCard followed early this year with its own guidelines (see story).

U.S. issuers so far have made few moves toward adopting EMV, except the several large banks issuing EMV cards to frequent international travelers, particularly business cardholders (see story).

"Issuers will most likely wait until 2014 before they begin broad EMV card rollouts," Peabody predicts. And then it will take two or three more years for major issuers to begin the switch, replacing cards as they expire.

Issuers probably will pick out certain customer segments to issue EMV cards to first, Peabody says. "They will probably look next at consumer cardholder bases and pick out who's traveling most and issue cards to those groups," he says.

On the terminal side, merchant acquirers may pick out certain "portal" U.S. cities where international visitors come most often and promote EMV terminals to those merchants.

"Acquirers in cities with lots of travelers from outside the U.S. will probably go to merchants in New York, Florida, San Francisco and so forth, and suggest upgrading to EMV compatibility in order to accept cards securely from around the world," Peabody says.

But small merchants in outlying areas and certain smaller issuers may be late to the party, he suggests.

"Canada is pretty far along in EMV card issuance, but out in places like Moosejaw, the mom-and-pop stores have probably not put in EMV terminals yet," Peabody says. "In the U.S., EMV adoption will have a long tail too."

At last week’s Card Forum and Expo in Orlando, Canadian payments experts cautioned the U.S. payments industry not to hesitate in preparing for the EMV switch (see story).

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