New credit and debit cards with computer chips are putting the squeeze on small businesses.
The cards being rolled out by banks and credit card companies are aimed at reducing fraud from counterfeit cards. As chip cards are phased in, magnetic stripe cards, which are easier for thieves to copy, will be phased out. Businesses of all sizes face an Oct. 1 deadline to get new card readers and software that can handle chips. Most estimates of transition costs for small companies vary from the low hundreds to tens of thousands of dollars due to the wide range of equipment used.
“It’s certainly a business expense,” said Scott Berg, Baton Rouge market president for Lee Michaels Fine Jewelry. “But if it keeps someone from making fraudulent charges, then we will have a good return.”
Berg said it will cost “at least $30,000” to install the card readers and software in the eight Lee Michaels stores in Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi. There could be additional programming costs, depending how the card readers interact with the point-of-sale systems in the jewelry stores.
But Berg said Lee Michaels has to pay for additional protection, since the stores sell high-value items that are hard to track down. “There are always unknown expenses that come up, and you have to be prepared for it,” he said. The plan is to have the card readers and software installed by Oct. 1.
If businesses don’t meet the deadline set by companies, including MasterCard, Visa and American Express, they can be held liable for transactions made with phony cards.
The switch to new chips in credit and debit cards poses a threat for small companies because they can’t get the volume discounts on the new equipment that big retailers get. And they don’t have in-house tech experts to install the new systems.
Dickie Brennan & Co., which operates four New Orleans restaurants, expects to pay more than $25,000 to replace card readers and software, said Derek Nettles, the company’s information technology director. The company won’t raise its prices to pay for the switch; instead, it’s delaying an upgrade of its security camera system.
“We’re not happy about the additional expense,” Nettles said.
The card readers that shoppers see are just one part of a payment processing system. They’re connected to software in a merchant’s computer system that receives the transaction information and sends it to a payment processor. The processor then posts a charge or debit to the cardholder’s account and a credit to the merchant’s account.
The simplest card readers used in stores and other small businesses are likely to cost at least $100. The machines will also read magnetic stripes and some also handle what are known as contact-less payments made with services like Apple Pay or Google Wallet. Most software prices start at several hundred dollars but can run into the thousands for more complex systems. Many companies have computer systems that do more than handle payments — they also manage inventory and customer and vendor information. Businesses like restaurants and those with multiple locations are likely to have the most complex systems and the highest expenses.
Vince Severns, the vice president of information technology at Raising Cane’s, said the chicken tender chain is actively investigating what its best option is. Raising Cane’s has more than 210 locations across the U.S. Severns said it would take “four or five” card readers to cover each restaurant.
Adding to the expense is the fact that the Raising Cane’s point of sale systems don’t currently have an external device that would allow customers to insert their credit or debit card into a card reader while the sale is processed. Those readers assign a unique code for each transaction, reducing the chances of fraud.
“We’re not so worried about hitting the date exactly,” Severns said. “There’s a shift in liability, but it isn’t a mandate.” Even after going through the expense of installing the new chip readers, Severns notes that there are other ways credit card fraud can happen.
Changing card readers and software isn’t something many small business owners, even tech-savvy ones, will be able to do on their own. They’ll need to hire technology consultants who can charge as much as $100 an hour or more to install the system and ensure it works.
“This is one of the biggest nightmares merchants are going to face,” said Michael Kleinman, owner of Mason Eyewear, a store in Brickell, Florida, and Centurion Payment Services, a company that processes credit and debit card payments.
Even with Kleinman’s expertise in payment processing as owner of Centurion Payment Services, it took him five hours to install two card readers and software. And he was on the phone getting technical support from his vendor while he did it. Although the new system works, there are glitches that keep him tinkering. For example, sometimes the system has trouble accepting certain cards.
“Most people are definitely going to need to hire somebody to do it,” Kleinman said.
It may make sense for companies with combined payment, inventory and other systems to separate the payment part to make them less vulnerable to hackers, said Scott Shedd, a technology consultant with WGM Associates in Scottsdale, Arizona.
But that will add more costs, said Avivah Litan, an analyst with Gartner Research.
“If you want to use this opportunity to secure your systems, it could cost you thousands,” she said.
Henry “Paco” Capello, information systems program manager at LSU’s Stephenson Disaster Management Institute, noted the steps won’t eliminate all forms of credit card fraud. After all, card readers aren’t being installed in homes to prevent fraudulent purchases from websites.
“Criminals have gotten a lot smarter, and they’re able to steal a whole lot of money, a lot faster and with less resources,” he said.
Advocate business writer Timothy Boone and Associated Press business writer Joyce Rosenberg contributed to this report.