It may take years for most small merchants to accept EMV-chip cards in the U.S., but the country's ultimate goal of adopting the secure payment technology is coming together faster than what was seen in other EMV markets.

The U.S. payments industry could have the majority of its EMV chip-card migration completed "inside of three years," or half of the time it took in some other countries, said Carolyn Balfany, senior vice president of product delivery for MasterCard.

The card networks' desired deadline is much sooner. MasterCard and its peers want most companies to be able to handle EMV-chip card payments by Oct. 1 (fuel sellers get an extra two years). But even if many U.S. companies miss that deadline, they benefit from lessons learned in other markets, Balfany said.

"From an industry perspective, we see great progress across the market and we support the idea that about 50% of the cards and 50% of terminals will be enabled by late 2015," Balfany said. She was one of several executives who spoke as part of a panel discussion on the EMV migration progress this week at the SmartCard Alliance Payments Summit.

EMV-chip cards are the standard in 80 other countries, providing better protection against counterfeit fraud through their use of unique cryptograms for each transaction. The U.S. is one of the last major payments markets to embed these chips in plastic cards.

In December, MasterCard reported that more than 100,000 unique merchants across the U.S. can now accept chip transactions, Balfany said.

Kimberly Lawrence, senior vice president of global corporate initiatives for Visa, agreed with Balfany's assessment of migration timing, but expects an even longer process for the millions of small merchants in the U.S.

"Given where we are in the process, it is not surprising to me that there are a number of smaller merchants less aware or less concerned about migration activities," Lawrence said after the presentation.

Because of that, Visa is encouraging acquirers to prioritize merchants based on the level of counterfeit fraud they see in their stores and focus education efforts on those in the most immediate need, Lawrence said.

"We've been at it [EMV migration education] for about three years by the time October 2015 will roll around, and we are anticipating that we will hit some level of similar readiness as in other markets by the time of that liability shift," Lawrence added. "But it will take many years to migrate and, for some merchants, it may never make sense to roll out to a chip card, based on the number of transactions they accept."

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