I took an awareness trip in December deep into the murky world of Chip & PIN courtesy of Gerald Wooding who is responsible for card acceptance across the Texaco network.
The trip was prompted by retailer Mike Andrews who felt that his forecourt at Maiden Newton had suffered an “absolute disaster” at the hands of Htec Gemini. He phoned to tell me this after reading my previous column where I reported on Garage Watch’s boss Mark Bradshaw’s recommendation of the Htec system as a viable solution for independents.
Before I go any further I have to say that Htec Gemini should certainly not carry the can for what is an industry-wide can of worms.
Not much in life is simple lately and Chip & PIN is no exception. In fact, it probably goes right to the head of the class for its genius combination of complexity and obtuseness. As I understand it, in a nutshell, the industry is trying to stay one step ahead of the fraudsters by setting updated tests all the time. This means so many new inbuilt security measures, that not much that is on the market so far passes muster.
Add to this the fact that there are any number of different players interpreting these changing goal posts – the equipment manufacturers, the card providers, software specialists and so on – which means there is little in the way of a finished, reliable, and importantly, upgradeable product.
And the card readers being produced are so sensitive that they can suss a fag paper difference in the thickness of the card being proffered and may reject it as faulty. Micro chips demand absolute accuracy or they will crash.
Moving from the wider retail world and homing in on forecourts, it gets even more complicated. “On forecourts, speed is of the essence,” says Wooding. “Petrol is a distress purchase so a standalone terminal is unacceptable. It has to be linked to the till so development takes longer.”
Texaco actually presents a bit of a textbook case as it provides card services for 1,050 independently-run sites, having retreated from the company-run scenario. These sites currently house either standalone or EPoS-linked systems with varying degrees of antiquity/modernity. The new system not only has to cater for all sorts but must be upgradeable for the future as well.
Wooding points to others in the industry – to BP, Sainsbury, Total, you name it, they have all had teething problems. In Texaco’s own experience, it became apparent towards the end of 2003 that the solution they were working on wouldn’t fit the bill because of all the changing protocols from the banks. Htec decided to build a completely new pinpad and rewrite the software. “But the failure rate of the pin pads was just too high and they were not fast enough,” says Wooding.
Back at the drawing board once again, Texaco and Htec worked on new software. “We are currently piloting on 14 sites, a combination that we believe has addressed all the issues from reliability to performance. Is it ever going to be quick enough? Probably not. But we think it will stand comparison with everything else out there. We are now closely monitoring it and will roll it out this month if every single one of our criteria is passed. We believe that Htec is one of the few fuel-compatible terminals on the market.”
Total, he adds, is also piloting something similar and will probably roll out before Texaco.
A couple more things all forecourt retailers should be aware of: bank charges for non-Chip transactions are expected to increase significantly in the second quarter of 2006. And after February 14, high street retailers will be switching off their PIN bypasses so they will be able to refuse sales for those without Chip & PIN cards, and put the goods back on the shelves. Petrol retailers obviously won’t be able to do that.
A lot of you must have thought it was an April Fool when on April 1, 2005, the Home Office issued new guidelines to the police under its ‘Counting Rules’. This meant that ‘bilking’ should only be recorded as a crime if certain aggravating factors such as the absence of a vehicle registration number or evidence of a stolen vehicle were present.
BOSS challenged the new guidelines and got something of a result which I thought would be worth highlighting for a hopeful New Year. As Kevin Eastwood, executive director of BOSS said: “The new guidelines were being misinterpreted by some police forces. The new ‘additional guidelines’ should alleviate the situation and, used correctly in conjunction with BOSS Forecourt Watch schemes, police forces can take positive steps to tackle the issue of making off without payment at service stations.”
The Home Office has admitted that the April 1 statement had been interpreted by some to mean that the police did not respond at all to reports of drive-offs and added that this was clearly not the original intention of the change to the Counting Rules.