Amex joins major card brands dropping signature requirement

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American Express is falling in line with Mastercard and Discover in eliminating the signature requirement for authorization on all card transactions at the point of sale, starting in April of 2018.

Amex says it is eliminating signature collection for all Amex merchants globally to provide a more consistent and simplified checkout process, while also reducing merchant expenses associated with retaining signatures.

“The payments landscape has evolved to the point where we can now eliminate this pain point for our merchants,” Jaromir Divilek, executive vice president of global network business for Amex, said in a Monday press release.

“Our fraud capabilities have advanced so that signatures are no longer necessary to fight fraud," Divilek said. "In addition, the majority of American Express transactions today already do not require a signature at the point of sale as a result of previous policy changes we made to help our merchants.”

After years of debate over the effectiveness of signature in the age of EMV chip cards, contactless cards and advancing mobile and e-commerce options, major card brands are dropping the signature requirement while citing tokenization and biometrics as key security steps phasing out signature.

The Merchant Advisory Group, an organization that represents many large merchants on payments-related topics, predicts Amex's decision will make the checkout process more efficient for merchants and their customers, said Laura Townsend, senior vice president of operations for the group.

“We commend American Express’ decision to eliminate signature requirements,” Townsend said in the release. “This move will help merchants provide a quicker check-out experience for more customers by removing potential friction at the point of sale.”

The MAG has long been a proponent of dropping signature authorization, dating back to when merchants were questioning the expense of EMV chip conversion in the U.S. without the added security of PIN to the new cards.

For one of the largest retailers in the world, the move to eliminating signatures provides merchants much "greater flexibility as they experiment with and adopt new technology to provide customers with a faster and more convenient shopping experience," Mike Cook, senior vice president and assistant treasurer at Walmart, said in the release.

“The introduction of our Walmart Pay mobile app has raised our customers’ expectations for being able to check out quickly and easily,” Cook said. “Having to sign a receipt can be a hassle for customers and is not necessary to prevent fraud at the point of sale. We’re pleased American Express has decided to eliminate its signature requirements, which will promote a more seamless shopping and checkout experience for our customers.”

The elimination of Amex's signature requirements will apply to purchase transactions of all amounts at the point of sale. Amex is the first payment network to announce this change globally, expanding previous policy changes it has made in various regions.

For example, Amex has already eliminated signature requirements for transactions at the checkout that are less than $50 in the U.S., less than $100 in Canada, and less than 30 pounds in the U.K.

In regions outside the U.S. where signatures are already less common, this change can help provide a more consistent checkout experience for travelers, Amex said.

Once this change takes effect in April 2018, merchants will still have the option to collect signatures at the point of sale if they choose to do so, and must continue to collect signatures if they are required to do so by applicable law in their jurisdiction.

Visa, which also had eliminated signature use for less expensive transactions, has been more supportive of the signature requirement through the introduction of chip-based EMV cards, citing its ease of use for consumers and merchant terminals. Visa, however, has also been a proponent of mobile and e-commerce technology that bypasses the need for signature.

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