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Opinion: EMV at the Pump: Should You Wait Until 2020?

Why the delayed deadline does not necessarily buy retailers more time

ATLANTA -- There was a collective sigh of relief on Dec. 1, when Visa, followed quickly by MasterCard, announced a shift in the forecourt gas-pump liability date from 2017 to 2020. I believe there also was a smile in some boardrooms, as retailers that already have invested see an opportunity to capture gallons and inside sales.

Industry reports suggest that about 33% of dispensers in the market are capable of processing payments to Europay MasterCard Visa (EMV) data-security standards with either a software or small hardware upgrade. This represents dispensers installed since 2011, when both Wayne and Gilbarco started shipping “EMV-ready” dispensers. Both manufacturers are reportedly close to or have released the required software to enable EMV, and there’s high probability that many networks will be processing EMV from pumps by mid- to late 2017.

So what?

Consumers are quickly becoming used to using a chip card. They are aware of the reason for it: increased security. Crooks are aware of EMV, and can quickly identify fuel dispensers that have—or don’t have—EMV payment enabled.

I believe we’ll see two things happen:

  • Consumers will shift their buying behavior to EMV-enabled gas pumps, starting in 2017. A high percentage of your customers have had one of their cards breached in the past and want the most secure transaction possible. In Europe and Canada, which have completed their implementation, retailers saw gallons shift to “secure” EMV sites from those that hadn’t yet been upgraded. Switching costs are low in our industry; it’s very easy for a customer to drive another block for a safer experience.
  • Criminals will have a shrinking number of sites to target. About 10% of dispensers are replaced each year. This suggests that, with no acceleration in upgrades, more than 50% of dispensers will be EMV-enabled in 2018, and 70% in 2020. The crooks have got to eat, and they will have half the sites to target that they had in 2015. Combine this with EMV implemented at restaurants and retail, and the potential places to commit card fraud becomes a small target.

Gray Taylor, executive director of Conexxus, said that Visa and MasterCard’s delay announcements appear to not clearly delay liability for retailers who experience higher fraud rates or those accepting foreign-issued cards. “We don’t see this announcement as a true game delay, but a bit of breathing room,” he said.

It is important to review your fraud liability with your processor, and understand Visa and MasterCard’s plans and how increased fraud may affect you.

It’s highly unlikely that we’ll see the liability upgrade deadline move again. With the installed EMV base naturally approaching 80% or more dispensers, the arguments that caused the date to move have less sway, and all other U.S. payments markets will have been EMV-enabled for five years.

Waiting will get more expensive. It’s generally anticipated that the new administration’s economic plans will result in higher inflation and interest rates. Combine this with promised lower tax rates, which effectively reduce the benefits of capital depreciation and makes equipment more expensive on a net-cost basis, and increases in labor costs, and waiting will be expensive. For multisite operators, the change in bonus depreciation from 50% today to 30% in 2019 and 0% in 2020 can have a significant cash-flow impact.

Competitors that have upgraded to new pumps will have enhanced marketing capabilities that the newest pumps provide. Video screens and contactless payment provide marketing options that can increase adoption of customer-loyalty programs and drive more traffic into your store.

The bottom line: Delaying pump EMV upgrades means potential market-share loss and higher fraud risk for your site. Consumers—and crooks—will know who’s made the move.

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