Square Cuts Seconds from EMV Card-Processing Time

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For merchants still on the fence about whether to buy Square Inc.’s $49 contactless card reader, there’s a new enticement to consider: Square has sped up the time it takes to accept EMV cards by 1.5 seconds.

The San Francisco-based company has released an update to the NFC-enabled reader that reduces transaction speed to 4.2 seconds, about 25% faster than its previous fastest speed of 5.7 seconds, according to a Sept. 26 blog post.

Square said it is able to achieve this speed because it designs both the hardware and software of its readers. A Square spokesperson said the firmware update will be seamless to users but did not provide further detail on how its updated firmware achieved faster speeds.

Square is only one of several industry players taking action to address widespread gripes that EMV cards as a whole take longer to process than the older, less secure magstripe cards. Processing time is becoming a critical issue for merchants approaching the holiday season, when stores are least likely to want to make changes to their point of sale hardware.

Visa this spring announced a Quick Chip technology that aims to slash EMV card-processing times, and Mastercard, Discover and American Express followed suit, but few merchants have actually implemented the service so far, according to industry sources.

Square isn't finished tackling the problem, either. The company said it’s working to further improve its technology to make chip card transactions go through even faster. “Our goal is to keep chipping at this time until we get it to around 3 seconds, and we hope to get there soon,” Square said in its blog post, noting that some news reports pegged the average time for all types of EMV card readers at 8 seconds or more.

Square began to ship its contactless EMV card reader in November 2015, betting that devotees of its older, free magstripe card reader—which it still offers—would shell out nearly $50 for the upgrade. Square said it’s sold more than 500,000 of the readers, and four months ago the company introduced a $1-a-week installment plan to get more takers.

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