ORLANDO, Fla. -- Don’t expect to see the United States complete the transition to EMV smartcards anytime soon, a speaker said here today.

The United Kingdom, for example, took 10 years to reach 80% EMV penetration, Todd Ablowitz, president of Double Diamond Group, said during a panel discussion at the Southeast Acquirers Association annual conference.

“This is Act 1 of a 31-act play,” Ablowitz declared.

But panelists agreed that the American switch to EMV has begun and will continue. The card brands wrangled the transition in other countries and now they’re doing it here, they said.

In fact, the U.S. is the 144th nation to make the change to chip cards, said panelist Jeff Park, VeriFone Systems Inc. senior sales executive for the Eastern U.S.

To complicate matters here, EMV is arriving just as the payments industry enters a state of flux and uncertainty reigns over contactless payments, mobile payments, mobile wallets and Near-Field Communication, suggested panelist Russ Wolfe, Equinox Payments manager, security products.

“I feel a little bit bad for you folks,” Wolfe said to the audience.

And despite the welter of uncertainty, acquirers should make choices and move forward to avoid the “log jam” that will occur when competitors are rushing into EMV and squabbling over scarce resources, warned panelist Greg Boardman, Ingenico senior vice president, product and development.

The rush will eventually come because the U.S. has little choice but to convert to EMV, Ablowitz said. As the last country without the EMV, which is more secure than magnetic-stripe cards from certain types of fraud, criminals worldwide will turn their attention to this country, he cautions.

“All the fraud’s going to come here like a tropical storm,” he predicted.

If crooks skim card information from the magnetic stripes of cards in a country like Canada which has stripes and chips, they can’t use it in Canada because the readers will demand chip data. But they could use it here until EMV becomes common, speakers said.

Besides dodging fraudsters, card issuers will see a competitive advantage in offering chip cards as the format becomes more common here, said Boardman.

At some point a mass launch will occur as Chase, Bank of America, Capital One, Amex and other big issuers release smartcards, Ablowitz said.

ISOs and agents will play a key role in the transition because the duty of explaining it to merchants will fall to them, speakers said. It’s a job that requires expert knowledge of EMV as well as the hustle and salesmanship that sustained them up to now, according to Ablowitz.

“The time has passed when all you had to do was knock on doors and add the numbers,” he said.


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