Visa Won't Require Signatures, a Move Wal-Mart Long Sought

Updated on
  • Visa to eliminate requirement for chip cards starting in April
  • Roughly one-quarter of Visa transactions require a signature

Visa Inc. will stop requiring signatures for purchases made in North America using chip-card technology, a significant win for big brick-and-mortar retailers such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. that could help them cut the cost of accepting plastic.

The move takes effect in April for more than 2.5 million merchant locations with terminals equipped to read so-called EMV-chip cards, San Francisco-based Visa said Friday in a statement. Roughly a quarter of transactions on its payments network currently require a signature.

Visa chip card

Bloomberg

“Making the signature requirement optional for EMV chip-enabled merchants is the responsible next step to enhance security and convenience at the point of sale,” Dan Sanford, vice president of consumer products at Visa, said in the statement.

Merchants have campaigned for years to ditch signatures because those sales are routed through systems with fees more than double those for transactions using personal identification numbers, or PINs. Visa is the last of the major U.S. payments networks to ease the signature requirement. Mastercard Inc. was first to eliminate the requirement, followed by Discover Financial Services and American Express Co.

Read more: AmEx joins Mastercard, Discover in dumping signatures

Visa and its main competitors rolled out the chip technology -- named EMV for founders Europay, Mastercard and Visa -- over the past few years in the U.S. That supplanted magnetic stripes, which permanently store codes that are easily copied by hackers. Chip cards and mobile-payment options generate new codes for every transaction.

“Less than two years since EMV chip launched in the U.S., fraud declined 66 percent at EMV chip-enabled merchants,” Visa said in the statement.

Wal-Mart has often led the fight against card fees, once threatening to ban Visa’s cards from all of its Canadian stores. In 2016, it sued Visa, saying the network wanted the retailer to verify debit transactions with customer signatures, rather than PINs, after the transition to EMV. Visa and Wal-Mart settled the case in November.

— With assistance by Dan Reichl

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