As credit unions learn more about new technology, they are some of the institutions leading the nation in the issuance of payment cards that use embedded computer chips to validate identity and secure transactions.
The chip technology, dubbed EMV technology for the Eurocard, MasterCard and Visa data technology standard, has been available in other countries for some time but only recently gained support from the major card brands for introduction into the United States.
Not only was the 100,000-member, $3.7 billion United Nations Federal Credit Union in Long Island City, N.Y., the first credit union to issue EMV-enabled cards, the cooperative is believed to be the first financial institution to distribute them to a significant portion of its card base.
Other credit unions were also among early adopters issuing the cards to their entire enrolled debit card base. Several have begun to offer their members prepaid cards embedded with the chips, according to executives with the credit unions and payment CUSOs that provided implementation support.
Merrill Halpern, assistant vice president for card services at UNFCU, said his credit union has been very pleased with the initial roll out of the chip enabled cards, which went to 8,000 member accounts enrolled in a frequent flyer card program previously in place.
“We considered that these were the members who were most likely to need the cards and most likely to use them in overseas travel,” Halpern explained, adding that cards with EMV technology have become almost essential when traveling outside the U.S.
“Our member reactions have been overwhelmingly in gratitude,” he offered, saying members have said “thank God you finally have these.”
Because so much of the rest of the world relies upon EMV-enabled cards, merchants and merchant processors in some countries have stopped supporting card transactions that do not use the EMV technology.
As of June, UNFCU had roughly 40,000 credit card accounts worth more than $130 million, according to the credit union. Halpern said UNFCU has plans to complete the rollout of EMV cards to all of its member accounts in the next 18 months, but that the project is in a line of other undertakings UNFCU is gearing up to debut.
“Like other credit unions, we have limited resources so we have to plan how we do it,” Halpern said.
One consideration for UNFCU is the additional cost of the EMV-enabled cards. Halpern said the credit union had to pay between 25% and 40% more for them over its magnetic stripe cards.
Still, the EMV cards are so popular with some members who were not among the original 8,000, that they are willing to pay an additional fee in order to obtain them, he added.
While UNFCU does not charge a fee for EMV, with the original card program, there was a $50 fee to cover the costs of travel-related benefits including access to special traveler lounges in airports and other services.
The 1.7-million member, $25 billion State Employees’ Credit Union, in Raleigh, N.C., completed its rollout of EMV-enabled cards to all 1.1 million debit card holders, making the financial institution among the largest issuers of EMV debit cards in the U.S., said Leanne Phelps, senior vice president for card services.
Phelps reported that SECU decided to reissue the more than one million cards to its members to both enable them to travel more easily and to take advantage of additional fraud protections the cards provide.
Member reaction to the cards has been very favorable, Phelps said. SECU included a special jacket for the new cards in the distribution that explained what EMV does, roughly how it works and what it protects.
She said not only has the credit union began to see transactions on the cards from members traveling overseas almost immediately, but also in the U.S., including in North Carolina, SECU’s home base.
“It’s only been a trickle so far, but it’s definitely there,” Phelps said.
One of the things holding back more widespread issuing of EMV cards in the U.S. has been the perception that there are few places in the country where EMV is required, some experts have said. Phelps suggested there might be room for cooperation among credit unions to lower the cost of the EMV-enabled cards.
Because it was issuing over a million cards, SECU was able to negotiate a price for its EMV cards that would cost an average of only 70 cents more than the magnetic stripe cards to issue, Phelps said.
Kenton Potteron, vice president for card payments and product development for PSCU, reported that roughly 50 of the 180 credit unions that turn to the payments CUSO for help with prepaid cards have opted to make EMV-enabled prepaid cards available to members.
Two of the CUSO’s client credit unions have already started rolling out EMV-enabled credit cards. The 100,000-member, $900 million Andrews Federal Credit Union in Suitland, Md., served as a pilot credit union for PSCU’s EMV transaction processing and has issued more than 2,300 EMV credit cards.
The 68,000-member, $1.4 billion State Department Federal Credit Union in Alexandria, Va., started reissuing its existing magnetic stripe credit cards with EMV-enabled cards in June on a rotating basis and has issued about 100.
Potteron and Tracy Nelson, project manager for PSCU, said members have reacted well to the cards. The popularity of EMV-enabled prepaid cards stemmed from the perception that they provide a way to help traveling members with their transaction needs without having to issue EMV debit and credit cards.
The EMV prepaid cards are reloadable and could almost be seen as a form of the old American Express cards, which were used highly for travel expenses, Potteron said.
PSCU had opened discussions with its primary card provider about the possibility of negotiating lower costs for EMV cards for PSCU member credit unions.
“This sort of thing, negotiating better prices on volume, is precisely what we were founded to do,” Potteron said.
Jeff Russell, senior advisor to The Members Group, a processing CUSO affiliated with the Iowa Credit Union League and CEO of TMG Financial Services, an issuer of 55,000 of its own card accounts, said his organization was planning to begin issuing the EMV- enabled cards in 2013.
TMG Financial buys card portfolios from credit unions and then issues the cards in agent programs with the former credit union owners.
Russell said that TMG’s participating credit unions were generally holding back from making final decisions on how to issue EMV cards until it became clearer on when and how many EMV card readers would become available.