Bank of America is offering a service that makes it possible for travelers to retrieve their chip-and-PIN card's forgotten PIN without calling a customer service representative or waiting for a mailed response.

The bank updated its Commercial Card with the launch of an online PIN Check service, which allows the cardholder to view a PIN in a secure web-based location.

The PIN Check service follows the company's rollout of chip-and-PIN cards to large corporate clients in the U.S. and Europe over the past few years, and addresses one of the potential drawbacks of issuing those cards.

When Bank of America introduced its chip-and-PIN card for business travelers in the U.S. in November of 2011, some technology experts expressed concern that banks would have to deal with extra customer service costs because of forgotten PINs. 

After all, American business travelers were likely to only need the chip-and-PIN card when traveling in other countries, and would have almost no reason to use their card's PIN at home.

The online PIN Check tool is "a matter of providing those customers what they need, when they need it," says Kevin Phalen, head of global card and comprehensive payables for Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

Online PIN Check was developed in response to feedback from clients who were looking for a quicker, more convenient way of verifying their personal identification number, he adds.

The service allows cardholders to access their PIN through a secure website at any time of the day. The website requires users to register and log in with a password.

For now, PIN Check will be a separate stand-alone site, Phalen says.

"We were hearing, for the most part, that these were executive travelers using this card and they don't use a lot of our other services, which their other administrators might use," Phelan says.

In that regard, the executive can log onto PIN Check from a mobile device when at a point of sale terminal in a restaurant or hotel if the need arises to retrieve the card's PIN, Phelan says.

Online PIN Check eliminates the potential for a business traveler to have to wait a number of days to receive a PIN confirmation through the regular mail.

The technology provides the PIN in a series of fading numbers, so the full PIN is never shown on the computer or mobile device screen, Phelan says. "That protects against the chances of someone shoulder-surfing [looking at the screen at same time as customer], and we are encouraging customers to remember the number and not have to jot it down," he adds.

The service is available to U.S. and European cardholders and Bank of America will introduce it to Canadian clients next month.

Cardholders forgetting their PINs presents a challenge for banks, one that comes up when issuers debate whether to provide chip-and-PIN or chip-and-signature cards for customers, says Julie Conroy McNelley, senior analyst and fraud expert with Boston-based Aite Group.

"I am doing a study on EMV issuers and finding them to be split on chip-and-PIN or chip-and-signature," McNelley says. "During EMV training in Canada, issuers noted that people tend to forget their PIN and that was a concern."

Bank of America has been one of the leaders in online security and using multiple layers of defense, so creating the PIN Check website was "a smart way" to provide a needed service, McNelley adds.

"It's actually a lot more secure to provide a website than to have the customer call in to a call center and talk to another human being on the other end about a PIN," McNelley says.

In addition to the practical security reasons for providing a PIN service, Bank of America also benefits in that customers will be less likely to simply use another card if they forget the PIN on their commercial card, she adds.

Travelers tend to have more than one chip-and-PIN card available to them and the Bank of America card could go to the back of the wallet if it takes too long to retrieve a forgotten PIN, McNelley says.

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