MasterCard has revealed it's finally pushing the EMV system (aka chip-and-PIN) across its U.S. credit card infrastructure. Developed well over 15 years ago, the technology is ubiquitous in Europe to the extent some card readers have issues with visiting American tourists' old-fashioned plastic. Its main advantage is security, as a PIN is easier to conceal than a fairly copiable signature, and each transaction between merchant and bank at the point of sale is carried out using powerful encryption, so it's nigh impossible to intercept the data.
By the end of April 2013, MasterCard is saying it'll have replaced its existing magnetic strip infrastructure with one compatible with the chip-based technology, where every credit card has a small silicon chip embedded in it, not unlike a cell phone's SIM card. This is actually the trickiest part of the maneuver: Issuing new cards to subscribers, with a flyer explaining the new tech is pretty easy and cheap, but replacing every credit card reader in every MasterCard-accepting store, coffee shop and what-not is much trickier, as is putting in place all the secure encryption hardware so it works 100% reliably.
But here's the rub--we've been foretelling this move for a while, and just as it brings the U.S. up to speed (at last!) with technology across the Atlantic, it also opens the doors to future payment technology. MasterCard is taking pains to note the new infrastructure "will serve as the foundation for the next generation of products and services developed to enhance rthe way consumers pay." This means "eCommerce" and "mobile" and will also "seamlessly integrate loyalty programs and offers into the purchasing experience" in a "world beyond plastic," as the press release notes.
That means your next credit card really may be your last, but before the plastic goes it'll turn digital...and then disappear entirely into the digital ether (with Apple perhaps involved, if Visa doesn't seal the iPhone NFC deal first).
[Image: Flickr user clanlife]