Consumers can expect a flurry of thick, credit-card-carrying mail as some banks attempt to get high-tech chip cards into their hands before the holidays.
The catalyst: A series of high-profile security breaches at U.S. retailers caused an acceleration of a multi-year transition to the chip-and-pin technology.
A year ago, credit card issuers thought the Europe-led move toward Europay, Mastercard (MA) and Visa (V) (or EMV) cards—which require a unique user code rather than an anonymous swipe—would bypass the U.S., said Paul Kleinschnitz, senior vice president in the cybersecurity group at First Data.
"After a larger breach like with Home Depot (HD)," Kleinschnitz said, "they said, 'We're not going to take this trickle approach. We're going to do a massive reissuance as soon as possible.'"
While Europe, Asia and Latin America have already broadly adopted EMV technology, replacing the United States' billion-plus swipe cards in circulation is no easy feat.
Chase (JPM) first focused on replacing cards like the British Airways Visa or Ritz Carlton Rewards card, for customers who frequently traveled internationally, said Jen Roberts, president of Chase's high net-worth card business. Those customers, the companies said, would be able to use chip-and-pin machines abroad and be less susceptible to fraud that takes place overseas.
But in October, the reissuance went mainstream with an announcement from Charlotte-based Bank of America (BAC), which said it would be replacing expired and lost debit cards with a chip-enabled card.
Luis Lujan, a Bank of America customer living in Texas, reached out to the company directly on Twitter to learn how to replace his card, once he found out EMV technology was available.
"A step forward is better than sitting still," he said about his approach to the switch. "Why not be proactive about ID theft?"
Titi Cole, senior vice president and product management executive at BofA, said the sooner consumers can start using the technology—which could cause a logjam in checkout lines—the better.
"There's going to be a learning curve," Cole said in a phone interview. "And the vast majority of merchants still don't have it."
So far, executives across the banking industry point to Wal-Mart (WMT) as the only major retailer that has invested in chip terminals on a large scale. In remarks at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau on Oct. 17, President Barack Obama acknowledged Wal-Mart, along with Home Depot (HD), Target (TGT) and Walgreen (WAG), for pledging to adopt chip-and-pin technology by the beginning of 2015.
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