Rage at the very thought of upgrading point-of-sale systems to accept EMV cards is becoming a theme among retailers sounding off in trade-show panel discussions.

Just weeks ago, merchants complained bitterly at the Ramp Mobile Retail Service conference in Chicago. Similar outcries arose even more recently at Nacha’s Payments 2013 conference.

EMV cards, now common in other countries, improve security over magnetic-stripe cards but aren’t compatible with many of the payment terminals in U.S. stores today. Though the U.S. has long resisted migrating to the EMV standard, the card networks established a timeframe to urge most merchants to upgrade their hardware by October, 2015.

If merchants agree to switch, the card networks will lower certain requirements to validate their compliance with the Payment Card Industry data security standard. If merchants don’t switch, they take on more liability for fraud.

The [card associations] chose to take the low road and do as little as possible,” George Odencrantz, vice president of IT for Sinclair Oil Corp., said at Nach. EMV’s about two decades old and doesn’t affect all types of fraud, he noted. “If [EMV] addressed online transactions and [totally removed] PCI compliance burdens, that may be different,” he said.

The expense of the transition concerns retailers. It will cost about $40 million to upgrade Sinclair’s gas purchasing systems to accommodate EMV cards. Because the company uses address verification as a security measure, EMV cards don’t add to the security for the gas stations, Odencrantz said. “We don’t think EMV will provide significant protection,” he said.

Odencrantz was one of several merchants who spoke critically of EMV in an energetic session at the Nacha event.

Gavin Waugh, vice president and assistant treasurer for Wendy’s, voiced concerns about whether EMV-chip cards provide enough fraud protection to be worth the cost of accepting them.

Wendy’s absorbs chargebacks for swiped card purchases under $25. Those payments constitute a vast majority of Wendy’s business, Waugh said, and fraud remains rare. “The fraud rate we ‘eat’ today is about one basis point — so small it’s not worth measuring. It’s tough to figure out how much the issuers are ‘eating,’ but we don’t think it moves the needle that much.”

As merchants upgrade terminals to accept EMV cards, “the fast food restaurants will get there, but they won’t be on the leading edge,” Waugh said.

The first of a number of card network deadlines for the switch to EMV has passed, and the networks are reporting progress among issuers, while merchants are hitting the conference circuit to make sure their concerns are heard.

“One thing to understand is EMV is not being mandated,” said Rue Jenkins, assistant vice president in the treasury department at Costco. Costco is already absorbing chargeback fraud, and there’s not adequate information on how costly the fraud liability shift will be compared to the cost of the EMV transition, Jenkins said.

Switching to EMV cards in Canada took as much as 10 years, while the U.S. timeframe is about three years.

“When we did [the] EMV rollout at our warehouses in Canada, it was painful, but not as painful as it will be in the U.S.,” Jenkins said. “We are concerned that the standards will only solve card-present fraud. We sell a lot of items on Costco.com, including $200,000 diamonds that were purchased with a credit card.”

Whatever path merchants take, they can’t eliminate fraud altogether, and many predict it will move to card-not-present channels.

Citing the Canadian Bankers Association, Claudia Swendseid, senior vice president at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, said changing to EMV in that country decreased card-present fraud.

At the same time, card-not-present fraud spiked. Swendseid did not directly attribute the increase to EMV — but it’s something to keep in mind, she said.


Subscribe Now

Authoritative analysis and perspective for every segment of the payments industry

14-Day Free Trial

Authoritative analysis and perspective for every segment of the industry