The Next Huge Credit Card Theft Can Be Avoided. Here's One Critical Step.

It's not all about Wal-Mart. Or Target  (NYSE: TGT  ) for that matter.

That was a key message from Visa's (NYSE: V  ) Bill Sheedy at the Transact 2014 payment technologies conference in Las Vegas. Sheedy's remarks focused a lot on security. That makes sense -- if anyone has a vested interest in avoiding the next big, high-profile credit card breach, it's Visa. Allow consumers to be convinced that they're at risk by swiping a credit card, and it's an obvious bad for Visa's business.

Most of us have heard about some of the technologies that are either set to be implemented or possibilities for the future. EMV -- "Europay, MasterCard, Visa" -- is a chip on credit cards that provides an additional level of security at the point of sale. Tokenization is a process for transferring sensitive data in a way that's more secure and difficult to steal. And of course, there are even more simple and basic solutions, like securing buildings and rooms that hold customer data and keeping computer systems up to date to keep hackers and worms out.

You don't have to tell Target twice about the importance of securing customer data. Or Nieman Marcus. Or Wal-Mart, Whole Foods, or many other retailers that haven't had recent, headline-grabbing data breaches.

But as I began, it's not these giant merchants that are the challenge for Visa and other payment giants to get on board: It's small businesses. It's the karate school down the street. It's the small cupcake shop. It's the delicious food cart that just started accepting credit cards.

It's comparatively easy to go to Wal-Mart, where there are teams of people devoted to questions around payments and securing data, and talk about making payments more secure and what that means for the company. But that's more difficult when you're talking to somebody who's great at making and selling beautiful hand-made jewelry, but has little idea what tokenization means.

This is hardly insurmountable. But the success and ubiquity of credit cards means that there are an incredible number of stakeholders in the system, and those stakeholders need to be educated. And that's the challenge ahead of Visa and its ilk: They need to educate the payments companies and merchant acquirers that are using the Visa network. And those companies, in turn, need to educated the millions of small and medium-sized businesses.

It's critical for a secure future for credit cards. But it won't happen overnight.

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