When in Rome…Have your card declined

Last updated: 18 December 2019

They say “when in Rome, do as the Romans do,” but on my last trip to Rome, that wasn’t so easy.  I was in Rome, but unlike the citizens, I could not get cash out of an ATM because my magnetic stripe card wasn’t accepted.  Some of the walk-up street access ATMs would only accept EMV chip credit and debit cards.

Of course, in my position at Gemalto, I am well aware that most of the world (other than the United States) is moving to new EMV  based bank cards that are more secure to lower fraud, and am often called upon to comment on it with the media, banks, and consumers.  We’ve even written about it right here on this blog.  However, this is the first time during my many travels to Europe that I have experienced chip only ATMs.  It took me over an hour to find an ATM that would accept a magnetic stripe credit card.

Media like the New York Times and the Associated Press are not only reporting on the problems with mag stripe in EMV countries, but offering U.S. travelers practical advice on how to handle it.  Often, retailers have the ability to accept mag stripe cards, but do not know how.  Showing these retailers how to swipe the card will often result in acceptance.  Unfortunately, tips like these are going to become obsolete as more payment terminals and ATMs become “chip only.”  Based on my experience, it seems that the declining acceptance of magnetic stripe cards in the new EMV world is going to become areal and persistent problem for U.S. travelers..

The good news is, some banks are.  Silicon Valley Bank, United Nations Federal Credit Union (UNFCU), Chase, US Bank and Wells Fargo are all in the midst of issuing EMV chip cards to their traveling customers, while retail giant Wal-Mart is already on board with accepting them.  UNFCU has already reported that customer satisfaction with its EMV program is very high and thanks to it, new account applications are up 158 percent, new credit line requests are up 382 percent, existing line increase requests are up 275 percent, revolving balances are up 20 percent and purchases are up 18 percent, compared to the prior period.

It seems customers are jumping at the chance to be an EMV chip cardholder.  If more U.S. banks follow this lead and start issuing cards compatible with EMV, they can prevent the day coming when their customers are simply stuck without credit card payment options and left in a foreign country cashless.