Introducing 1-Second EMV

The problem with EMV for most consumers and merchants comes down to speed, Visa and Index have learned. The change in hand motion didn’t really throw most customers off that much. Moving from a swipe to dip didn’t turn out to be so very fundamentally different from each other – and consumers learned to deal.

Waiting, on the other hand – that quickly turned into a problem for both sides of the transaction.

“What we heard from our partners is that longer lines equals lost sales. All of us can imagine that experience because we’ve all had it before at a QSR. Then you decide it is too long and you don’t want to wait. So any experience that extends the line – like waiting around for the EMV chip for an extra few seconds – has costs,” noted Marc Freed-Finnegan, co-founder and CEO, retail software provider Index.

Some of EMV’s speed issues were addressed in a remarkable way last summer when Visa released its Quick Chip solution. Index partnered with Visa on the first implementation of it (and later with Mastercard on the implementation of their faster EMV spec, MChip Fast). And as a result, the time for an EMV transaction fell from 7 to sometimes 8 seconds to something more like 2 to 3 seconds.

Which, Freed-Finnegan noted, was a good start – but also something they thought they could improve upon – because what they continued to hear from merchants was that even at 2.3 seconds, EMV costs them money.

“It was pretty simple to see that this was a major pain point for our retail partners. So we put a bunch of engineers in a room and asked them ‘how can we make this go faster?’”

And, that’s what they did. Today, Index is announcing that they have found a way to make the EMV transaction go faster – all the way down to a single second.

A New EMV Kernel

Cutting the speed of an average EMV transaction by more than half takes some work, of course.

“The major technical thing we did is to write our own EMV kernel and get it Level 2 certified from EMVCo – the governing body for standard around EMV. This was a big deal, and big project.”

The insight that drove the redesign, Freed-Finnegan noted, was the fact that even though EMV is new to the U.S. – it’s not a new technology –  it was designed for a very different marketplace. So, when EMV went online here, “a lot of the old was ported into the U.S.,” without really taking care to optimize it for its new American market. The 1-second EMV software removes those unnecessary legacy elements and allows its new kernel to perform much faster.

Better For Customers

Customers don’t want to wait – Freed-Finnegan noted – but they like guessing even less than they like waiting.

More than just re-aligning the hardware spec of their product- Freed-Finnegan noted, the 1-second EMV is also about rethinking the product experience for customers, who may have gotten off on the wrong foot with chip-tech in its earlier slower days. Part of that is bringing in the “dip-anytime” element so customers are able to insert their card whenever they want to instead of “waiting for a magic moment with a cashier” and then having to wait, after already having waiting to get to the checkout counter.

Index also sought to make the messaging clearer, because at some point a lot of the difficulty with EMV is that consumer may not know what to do, when to dip, when to enter information or why the machine is beeping loudly at them.

“We made the message really large and clear,” Freed-Finnegan said. “This may seem like a small thing but our information now takes up 20 percent of the pin pad. Consumers are not confused, they know where they are in the transaction. And we removed unnecessary screens and let those consumers dip whenever they wanted to, including at the beginning of the transaction.”

Easier For Merchants

But, as an entire merchant class that just lived through the great EMV terminal upgrade will cheerfully attest – changes, no matter how beneficial, should be weighed carefully since they are often costly.

But not in this case – Freed-Finnegan notes, because on the integration side, this is essentially a software update for POS terminals running Index already. For those that aren’t, he concedes, one might have to touch the device once during an install – but after that the software updates will be automatically pushed to the POS terminal.

And it is these kind of upgrades – that happen simply and make the experience exponentially smoother within the retail establishment – might be helpful in pushing hold-out categories of merchants toward greater comfort with adoption the EMV standard.

“When you look at EMV enablement in QSR, it’s much slower than other parts of the market. QSR is very sensitive about line speed of service – so much so that they have said ‘Ehhh, we are going to wait on EMV.’ At 1 second it is a non-issue. With the tech we’ve developed here speed is not real reason for fast casual or quick service to be wary.”

And 1-second, he notes, isn’t as well as Index plans to do – for the next generation of EMV cards, the goal is to knock that transaction time to fractions of a second. Because in retail , time is literally money – and even a few seconds have a tangible value.

Freed-Finnegan noted that, going forward, the times on EMV could even be pushed lower – into the nanosecond range – since further clearing up and out those legacy speed-bumps, even below the one-second time – will be apparent to merchants and customers.

“Imagine having technology that can go 500 miles an hour – and then finding out that a speed-limit of 5 miles an hour has been imposed on it because of legacy system constraints. We’ve identified something else that’s a drag on EMV transaction speed – and think we can get do even better than 1-second.”

And, no doubt there’s a bunch of engineers at Index HQ hard at work tackling that problem.



The pressure on banks to modernize their payments capabilities to support initiatives such as ISO 20022 and instant/real time payments has been exacerbated by the emergence of COVID-19 and the compelling need to quickly scale operations due to the rapid growth of contactless payments, and subsequent increase in digitization. Given this new normal, the need for agility and optimization across the payments processing value chain is imperative.

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