In a very short time, Florence Savings Bank has seen its customers demonstrate a fanatical devotion to its new instant debit card issuance system.

"We recently had a branch with a temporary connectivity issue, where the printer wasn't working, and we had reports of consumers driving ten miles to another branch to get a new card," says Becky Lynch, vice president of product development for the Florence, Mass.-based $1.06 billion asset bank. "That's how popular these cards are."

The bank recently installed a new instant issuance system that includes card printers in its branch network and a hosted card production. Called Card@Once, the EFT Source issuance engine sends requests for new cards to EFT Source, where it is processed into an encrypted print file and returned to the branch. The secure system enables account holders to select a PIN at the branch, and then prints a card on the spot.

The bank wants to reduce the risk inherent in sending PIN codes through the mail, Lynch says. It also wants to better serve its local community, which has a number of universities and is thus populated by students who frequently change addresses, she says. These students can now get a card immediately upon moving, she says. 

The bank instantly issued about 230 cards in the first month. Since the cards are produced faster, the cards get used faster, Lynch says.

"Although we didn't have a serious delay in card usage in the past, we are seeing cards getting used very quickly, which makes them a better source of interchange revenue. Instant is faster than waiting five to seven days to the get the card in the mail," she says.

Instant issuance also helps a reward program tied to debit transactions, and the system has also been useful in fielding lost or damaged card requests, Lynch says.

Florence Savings Bank has additionally started printing flat cards, which customers like. "The new cards aren't embossed. Our customers say that's a lot easier to read and is more modern looking," Lynch says.

The bank is now considering how to handle the issuance of EMV-chip cards. "We're just starting our due diligence on EMV right now," Lynch says.

EFT Source offers EMV instant-issue cards, and is making scalability changes to accommodate the broader U.S. shift to EMV-chip cards, says Bill Dinker, president of EFT Source. That includes updating software to prepare data for chip cards and equipping printers with EMV capabilities. This project should be complete in about two weeks.

Other companies that sell instant card issuance include DataCard and Fiserv, which are also prepping for the EMV migration in the U.S..

"EMV cards are more difficult and costly to issue. For example, they require additional data preparation steps, such as generating the cryptographic and application data required for personalizing the smart card's chip," says Zil Bareisis, a senior analyst at Celent. "However, once the card is ready, instant issue is relatively straightforward, provided you have the right card printing equipment in the branch, capable of supporting chip cards."

The bank's reduction in mail also helps consumers avoid mistakes, Bareisis says.

"At least one important benefit of issuing EMV cards is that the customer can select the PIN right there in the branch, which eliminates the need to send cards and PIN separately and running the risk of losing either of those."

Instant-issue debit cards have started to pick up steam over the past year, with larger banks turning to the technology. The cards have also proven useful for disaster recovery

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