When you write about technology for any period of time, you realize there are pivot points both large and small. There are big notable moments when everything changes – like home computers and mobile payments. Then there are little quiet ones, too – marking significant upheavals for how we do things, but go pretty much unheralded. Examples include the selfie-enabled camera and the end of signatures at the point-of-sale.
The last pivot point – the end of signatures at the point-of-sale – hasn’t quite come to pass yet. But it’s coming. It will occur gradually, but Mastercard put the first nail in the coffin. Last month, the credit card giant announced that, effective April 2018, it would end the requirement to virtually “sign” the card reader upon checkout.
On its face, it’s a pragmatic decision. Mastercard reports that more than 80 percent of transactions in North American don’t require signatures today. Electronically signing really doesn’t add a layer of security; it’s a holdover from the days of physically signing a credit card slip. Other security solutions such as PIN, EMV chip cards, and swiftly-evolving biometrics are filling the gap. Besides, most consumers scrawl a crooked line rather than anything that could be mistaken for an actual proof of identity. Signing at the point-of-sale does little more than slow down the checkout process.
No doubt, the other card brands won’t take long to follow Mastercard’s lead. The option for signature checkout will remain for merchants, but will probably only be in practice in high-ticket-value operations where fraud is an ever-present concern. For the rest of the economy, electronic signing will go the way of the selfieless camera.