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Contactless cards in the UK: are we there yet?

If you live in London, by association you are or should be contactless, at least according to the payments industry. But are we really there yet? The move by Transport for London (TFL) is certainly inching people closer, as buses no longer accept cash, only oyster or contactless bank cards. The London Underground and National Rail are also primed and ready, with transport chiefs hoping to eventually make current ticketing systems redundant (including oyster cards). It’s an initiative that is set to save TFL tens of millions (just eradicating cash from buses will reportedly save £20-30 million annually alone).

It all sounds great in theory…..but for those of us that don’t live in London with our oyster cards (whether abroad or elsewhere in the UK) or are one of the majority of Britons that still haven’t been issued a contactless card, it’s a nuisance.

Is the UK contactless? No, we just aren’t there yet. My bank (who will remain nameless) has been rolling out contactless cards since early 2012 and still hasn’t issued me one…..even when my card expired in late 2013. A friend, also with said bank, had the same problem – just last week. Should we have to ask? In an effort to be a good sport, I asked my husband to be contactless for a day in Nottingham. This resulted in me paying for his bus and his lunch (the lady serving us at a well-known sandwich chain didn’t want us to use the contactless terminal and as such had buried it behind the popcorn). Weirdly enough, the vape shop was fine and even offered the option to pay with bitcoin.

That said, as per my previous blog, I am pro-choice when it comes to making payments and certainly not against contactless cards (aside from grumbling that I don’t have one). However, having a contactless card in this instance didn’t make my husband’s day any easier, as he actively had to search out places where he could use it.

Compass Plus carry out annual surveys to compare consumer behaviour with industry expectation and the results are always quite controversial and never quite what we expected. On this occasion, we decided to single out the contactless card with some additional questions in an effort to find out where we stand in the UK. The three main challenges that arose were card distribution, concerns around security and regional awareness.

Surprisingly, approximately 71% of the 700 people interviewed across London, Nottingham, Sheffield and Wellingborough said that they still didn’t have a contactless card. 46.8% thought that contactless cards were the least secure way to pay and nearly 27% didn’t actually know what a contactless card was. More people were clued up about the payment method in London (83%) compared to the smaller town of Wellingborough (56.5%) even though it’s on the commuter belt, with the larger but further afield cities of Sheffield and Nottingham falling somewhere in between (72% and 74% respectively).

From these results, we can tell there is still plenty of work to do around education and awareness, especially with regards to security.  The press is plagued with stories with titles like “are we sacrificing security for convenience?” and “what are the risks of using contactless cards.” These concerns need to be dispelled and soon if we are to ensure mass adoption.

The growth in contactless card usage is undeniable; the recent TFL initiatives are bound to substantially increase these figures, whilst nationally year-on-year more and more merchants are accepting contactless payments (I won’t even mention NFC). So, when will everyone benefit (and not just London)? Undoubtedly, contactless cards are going to be huge in the UK. However, it is clear that who you bank with will largely control whether or not you can partake in contactless payments; and whilst some financial institutions have been quick-off-the-mark, others are clearly dragging their heels.


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