One Year In, Removing The Masking Tape From EMV

Lapping its one-year anniversary, EMV adoption in the U.S. has had its share of triumph and challenges that still remain. In the latest installment of Topic TBD, Jeremy Gumbley, chief technology officer of Creditcall, tells Karen Webster that the cards may be in the field, but it is up to the merchants to make using them a bit easier.


Regardless of the event, anniversaries serve to remind us of what happened, how far we’ve come and what lies ahead. As the payments industry nears the one-year anniversary of the United States’ transition to EMV, of course, it’s an opportune time to take stock of progress and what remains to be done.

High on that list, Jeremy Gumbley, CTO of Creditcall, says is removing the masking tape that now covers the card slots of many of the upgraded EMV terminals that now grace merchant countertops.

In the latest installment of the Topic TBD series, PYMNTS’ Karen Webster spoke with Gumbley to get a sense of what’s gone right in the transition to EMV and what still needs work.

“Whether you hate it or love it,” said Gumbley of EMV and the attendant liability shift, “you still have got to deal with it … We’ve seen exponential growth in EMV transactions going through our gateway. It’s a mixed experience for the consumer, however.”

Gumbley noted that there still remains a disconnect between EMV transactions on the rise and chip cards in the field, and still, one can encounter, almost daily, the “little piece of paper that is dunked into the [card reader] slot that reads ‘no chip cards, please.’” (Webster noted that most of the time she sees slots covered with masking tape, a forbidding hurdle against full-scale EMV adoption.) And that, he added, shows that merchants may have an EMV-capable PIN pad or reader but are not ready to deploy their countertop terminal in full EMV mode.

Part of that deployment reluctance on the part of the merchant, said Gumbley, can be traced to the vagaries of the consumer experience, where transaction times using chip cards can last anywhere from a few seconds to “multiple 30-second increments,” a range that can be disconcerting and confusing. Though Visa and Mastercard data shows that the transaction volumes using EMV are on the rise, there are, said Gumbley, a number of characteristics specific to the U.S. market that have created “a lot of issues for EMV deployment.“

Among those issues: PIN debit activity, which he said has presented a problem for certification and running transactions across various networks. “One issue we [at Creditcall] predicted that has come to pass has been the EMV certification bottleneck,” mused Gumbley. “I remember talking about this back in 2012, and people thought I was crazy, and everybody thought that, by the time EMV arrived, people would be able to do certification in an efficient, timely manner.” That has not come to pass on the merchant side, though he said that he takes his “hat off to the issuers for issuing quite so many EMV cards.” Gumbley said that, from an issuance point of view, the issuers in the states have done a fantastic job of putting chip-enabled cards in the consumers’ hands.

Turning back to the merchant side of the EMV equation, Gumbley stated that, despite the 700 million-plus cards that are chip-enabled and already in consumers’ hands, it has been within the merchants’ interest to bring EMV into the fold, not least for the chargebacks that are occurring.

“We’ve had reports of merchants experiencing six-digit chargebacks every month,” he explained.

Drilling down a bit into merchant EMV readiness and adoption, Gumbley stated that the biggest merchants, and specifically retailers, have been “fairly well-served” in the EMV transition, because they can afford to hire the expertise and to headhunt the expertise in order to migrate their systems to EMV — and they also have infrastructure that is of size and international in scope. But many retailers, he added, face a conundrum in which they cannot, and indeed should not, undertake a broad transition to new payments configurations in the midst of the all-important holiday shopping season and thereafter, which basically encompasses the period from Thanksgiving to as late as February — something that he said is rather unique to the U.S. market.

Queried by Webster as to the advantages of network-enabled “quick chip initiatives” as a way to speed up and smooth EMV adoption among merchants, Gumbley noted that those represent “noble efforts” and have advantages tied to truncated certification processes. Yet, that may not solve all ills. One issue that bedevils a smooth transition comes as retailers operate with a “mishmash” of technologies, equipment and different solutions at the back end, which means that transaction times lag those seen in other parts of the world, from Asia to Europe, where they can be as short as just a few seconds.

Upon being asked if the “masking tape issue” could, in fact, be spurring interest in contactless payments, from Samsung Pay to Apple Pay, Gumbley concurred that this may indeed be the case. Yet, he also believes that the masking tape could prove to be temporary, in the wake of effective user education and efforts by merchants to implement EMV solutions that compress transaction times.

And they need to, Gumbley said. “There’s been confusion on top of confusion, and I’ve seen retailers with chip-enabled [devices] in certain states and even certain parts of the state and not others.” That lack of uniformity, he offered, only hurts the consumer.