MyChip - the payments industry's wish list for Santa

Recently at a hotel car park in the Midlands I was queuing to pay at a self-service machine. Bewildered of Birmingham was in front. They'd put in their card and were waiting for the usual PIN prompt, but nothing was happening. Or so they thought. The machine was actually waiting to be told that a card had been put in! I do not jest, on the screen was a button marked: "I've inserted a card". Adds a whole new meaning to self-service.

Later on, queuing again, but this time for a designer coffee I was somewhat perplexed by what the assistant was doing with their chip and PIN machine. At first I thought it was some industrial test. They were swivelling it back and forth on its pole, vigorously pressing buttons. Apparently connections were down, transactions were declined and they were trying to sort it all whilst maintaining a sorry dialogue of abject apology. Well I suppose it was a sort of industrial test - for the assistant anyway.

And so back to the office and on the way distracted into our local "offy". To my great surprise, there on the counter was a contactless terminal courtesy of his acquiring bank. Whilst it is true that this small purveyor of potent brews has a few items under a tenner which could be bought with a contactless card, he had other problems. His bank had just sent him the new machine with no instructions other than reminding him that the minimum amount for a card transaction was £5! Luckily for me my vintage fell in that bracket, but, I asked myself, is one bottle going to be enough?

Now this wasn't intended to be an industry bash, so apologies all round to all concerned, but these hapless incidents did get me thinking. We can sometimes get so concerned with all the approvals, standards, requirements, and resilience that we lose the plot. We forget we are trying to make it easy for someone to pay for something. It's a fine balance to keep everyone happy: the retailer's budget, the industry's high, but necessary, security standards and not to mention the impatient customers! And all this against a rapidly changing backdrop of new technology which everyone wants now. So, are we doing the best we can? As an industry, I don't think so.

I thought I'd put together a list for Santa: all the payments industry wants for Christmas is:

1 x Generic accreditation - one hoop, one time
1 x System integration - same for POS, parking, vending and mobile
1 x Effortless customer journey - for professional payer and occasional spendthrift
1 x Car park ticket
1 x Large latte
1 x Chateauneuf-du-Pape
and the above paid for so smoothly I didn't notice the payment process (and nor did the very short queue behind me!)

One of the biggest challenges I have observed recently is how a major retailer can move seamlessly from new technology pilots to going live across their estate whilst clinging on to their existing payment systems. I see them making sacrifices to introduce a quick-fix, low cost, overlaid solution just to prove an ROI. But then it stops. The pain of integration and accreditation with their existing solutions being just too much and there being no alternative.

These challenges along with Santa's list were a principal focus for us in our development of G8way. Not only to allow a retailer a smooth transition from pilot to production for existing and emerging technologies, but also to give them as much or as little control of the payment process as they want. We want retailers to make full use of contactless without massive investment, from a 10 store trial to full roll-out and without any pain points on the way. But above all we want to make it easy for people to pay (and not queue).

Thursday, December 11, 2008