Poll: 70 percent of consumers now have EMV chip cards

All dressed up with few places to spend; new cards surge, retailer acceptance lags


Poll: 70 percent of consumers have chip cards
Poll: 70 percent of consumers have chip cards

Most U.S. consumers are now armed with smart chip cards and would be happy to use them – if only they could.

A new nationally representative telephone survey of 932 credit cardholders commissioned by found 70 percent of U.S. credit cardholders now carry an EMV chip card.

Issuance of cards bearing the fraud-fighting electronic chips has surged dramatically since Oct. 1, 2015. That's when liability for some fraud shifted from card issuers to merchants that can't accept the new cards.

When you compare data from the new poll to a similar one conducted in September 2015 and extrapolate it across the U.S. population, it means approximately 30 million Americans have received their first EMV card in the past six months.

“In terms of branded credit and debit cards, the U.S. has been quite remarkable regarding the speed at which it’s been converting to EMV cards,” said Martin Ferenczi, president of Oberthur Technologies, a leading global EMV product and service provider.

Consumers are also accepting of the new payment technology. Nearly 6 in 10 cardholders (59 percent) saying they have no complaints at all about chip cards, which authorize payments via computer chips rather than traditional magnetic stripes.

There's little for consumers to complain about, however, since they've not had many opportunities to stop swiping and start dipping their cards into upgraded terminals. Retailer acceptance has lagged far behind the pace at which card issuers have sent out chip cards. Industry estimates place retailer EMV readiness at less than 40 percent. That means that for many Americans, their fancy new cards are all dressed up with few places to go.

That frustrates consumers such as Patrick Miller. “There’s a certain humiliation that happens when your card ‘doesn’t work,’” the marketing executive told after facing a couple failed chip card coffee shop transactions. “The people behind you in line and the barista assume your account is empty. The thought that their point-of-sale system hasn’t caught up with the times isn’t on the top of their minds.”

EMV card migration well underway
According to the new poll, only 15 percent of card-carrying consumers have yet to receive a smart chip card from their issuers. The number of chipless cardholders has plummeted since’s chip card poll in September 2015, when more than 60 percent of cardholders had none. In six months, the numbers essentially reversed: Only 14 percent of consumers had a smart chip credit card in September, compared to 70 percent today.

Do you have at least one credit card with a smart chip, or are you not sure?

The new survey findings align with industry migration estimates. According to MasterCard, about two-thirds (67 percent) of its U.S.-issued credit cards were chip-equipped as of April 1, 2016. Visa’s chip card statistics from Feb. 29, 2016, showed about one-third of all Visa cards have chips, but that’s a 406 percent increase over this time last year, according to a network representative.

Who has chip cards
While most consumers have at least one chip card in their possession, some are more likely to have one:

  • College graduates: Seventy-six percent of poll respondents with a college education said they have chip card compared to 60 percent of those with a high school education or less.
  • High-income earners: Seventy-four percent of those who make more than $75,000 annually have a chip card compared to 62 percent of those who make less than $30,000 annually.
  • Young adults: The older the consumer, the less likely they are to have a chip card. Seventy-five percent of 18- to 29-year-olds said they have a chip card compared to 67 percent of those older than 65.
  • Men: Seventy-four percent of men said they have a chip card in their wallet today compared to 65 percent of women. 

Transaction, retailer delays frustrate some
Shortly after the October 2015 EMV fraud liability shift deadline, consumer complaints about chip-equipped cards made headlines. While the poll found only about 1 in 3 consumers voiced a complaint, the most-common of the gripes echoes what was heard during the 2015 holiday shopping season: Chip card transactions take too long, according to 16 percent of cardholders polled.

“I feel weird standing there forever waiting for the transaction to authorize,” Las Vegas-based consumer Carolyn Branson said. “I resent using the chip. It makes lines longer and makes me switch to cash about 40 percent of the time.”

Whitney Corley, a self-proclaimed frequent shopper from Louisiana, understands the adoption of EMV technology is supposed to help secure her card information, but also dislikes the longer processing time dipped chip cards require – and the processing noises.

“The two deeply toned ‘beeps’ the terminal emits to let me know that I may now remove my card sound as if it is declining my card, which I believe is embarrassing,” she explained. “Why not a more positive sound to signify approval, like when an email has been sent or when my Roomba has docked itself after a good vacuuming?”

The second most-common chip card complaint, which was expressed by 12 percent of consumers polled, is that not enough stores accept smart chip cards yet.

Even though most consumers are armed with a smart chip card, the retailer migration to EMV payment technology is definitely still underway. Merchant EMV-readiness estimates vary but a recent a study conducted by The Strawhecker Group found only about 37 percent of retailers are actually ready to process smart chip card payments. Boston Retail Partners estimates the merchant EMV-readiness rate is actually closer to 22 percent.

For some consumers, like SpyGuy Security owner Allen Walton, this transitional environment where some retailers accept chip cards and others cannot creates major headaches in store checkout lanes.

“I never know when to swipe or insert the card,” Walton said. “Half the time it seems like the insert part is broken, or they don't want me to swipe.”

card readers

Chip cards may be common, but many merchants aren't ready for them. During the transition, our reporters found, card readers are installed but not switched on, with makeshift signs or tape covering the "dip" port.

Some merchants who are in the midst of the transition process are using makeshift signs to instruct consumers what to do – or not do – with their chip cards:

card readers

Most consumers have no complaints
While some consumers are grumbling about chip cards, more than half of all surveyed consumers (59 percent) told they “don’t have any” complaints about the new payment technology.   

“Consumer awareness of EMV is finally catching on, which is a good thing, since going into the October 2015 timeline it seemed like very few had any knowledge,” said Benny Tadele, North American director of customer implementation, merchant retail and fraud at electronic payment provider ACI Worldwide.

The benefits of chip cards have trumped any prior hesitations about the card change for many.

“I personally don’t have a problem with the chip cards,” said Zondra Wilson, CEO of Blu Skin Care. “I’ve had my accounts hacked before, and I welcome any improvement to cut down fraudulent activity.”

However, the lack of complaints may also be due to varied EMV experiences. Not everyone has smart chip card to complain about yet or may have not yet had an opportunity to dip instead of swipe.

While card migration figures are strong, “There are probably many consumers who have yet to dip a chip card,” said Steven Mathison, senior vice president of payment acceptance at First Data. 

What complaints do consumers have about smart chip cards?

Merchants are lagging behind
Even though the EMV fraud liability shift deadline is six months past, in-store consumer payment experiences still vary because merchants need more time, according to industry experts.

“Retailers tend to get the blame because consumers see the retailers and don’t see what happens behind the scenes,” said J. Craig Shearman, vice president for government affairs and public relations for the National Retail Federation.

For some retailers, accepting chip cards is not as simple as replacing a payment terminal, according to Mathison.

“If you walk through any mall in the country, you’ll see chip readers at most cash registers,” Shearman said. “Some are being used as chip readers, but most are still using swipes,” because the new readers are still waiting to be “certified” for use.

EMV terminal certifications require each card brand and a payment acquirer check, update and give an OK that each EMV-terminal is working correctly and ready to use, ACI Worldwide’s Tadele explained. Merchants also have to run a large number of test scenarios to ensure the new payment system is ready to go and won’t disrupt commerce. Overall, the industry underestimated the work required for the EMV certification process, resulting in some migration delays, according to Tadele.

“This and the exponential complexity of EMV has translated into a longer and more expensive certification process,” he said. “In addition, many merchants waited until late 2015 to schedule their certifications. This created a very long queue for a certification slot with acquirers.”

More progress will come in 2016
Retailers will catch up, eventually. The Strawhecker Group estimates consumers will be able to use their EMV chip cards at about 50 percent of retailers by June 2016. EMV-readiness may not reach a 90 percent adoption threshold until 2017, but now that the holiday shopping season has passed, retailers are starting to progress with EMV migration, according to Mathison.

“We are seeing more engagement now from merchants [since] the first of the year,” he said. “They understand a little more about what the liability shift is and understand more about what the process is.”

For now, consumers (and retailers) frustrated with smart chip cards and the mixed EMV payment environment should continue to practice patience, Ferenczi recommends.

“I think there has been significant progress and, unfortunately, for all parties involved, these massive changes cannot occur instantly,” he said. “Everyone would like a magic wand to be waved and everything to work but that’s not realistic.”

Survey methodology commissioned Princeton Survey Research Associates International to obtain telephone interviews with 932 major credit cardholders living in the continental United States. Interviews were conducted by landline and cell phone in English and Spanish by Princeton Data Source from March 3-6 and March 17-20, 2016. Statistical results are weighted to correct known demographic discrepancies. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 4.0 percentage points.

See related: Video: How to use EMV smart chip credit cards, 8 FAQs about EMV credit cards

Published: April 6, 2016

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Updated: 10-25-2016

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