5 Ways Credit Cards May Change in the Next 3 Years

A man using a touchless reader that a barista is holding to pay with his credit card at a cafe.

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Everyday credit cards are about to change. Here's how.

No matter how much you enjoy your job, no one would blame you for being a little jealous of futurists' work. Approximately 1,000 futurists are working in the U.S. Though they work in a wide range of fields, from government to business, futurists have a singular goal: To predict what the future holds.

For example, a futurist consulting with universities might attempt to predict the "tuition tipping point," when education will no longer be considered worth the cost. A futurist with a food manufacturer might review demographic changes to predict which types of food are likely to be in demand.

Futurists working with credit card companies study consumer practices, safety concerns, and emerging technology to forecast what everyday credit cards will be like in the next few years. It is not an exact science but does give us a peek into the future.

Some of what we experience will be a continuation of technology that has taken hold, and some will feel like it came straight out of the Jetsons.

More chips

Remember hearing that all credit cards would eventually switch over from magnetic stripes to EMV chips? It has been a few years now, and the rollover is going strong. Approximately 8.2 billion EMV-chip-enabled cards are currently in use globally, accounting for 75% of all credit and debit cards worldwide.

EMV chips are designed to protect consumers from theft and fraud by creating a unique transaction code for each transaction. Plus, it's tough to clone the chip. Magnetic-stripe cards are shockingly easy to copy, and the equipment needed to do so can be purchased for as little as $20. EMV chips are safer. Even if a crook could isolate and copy the information stored on a chip, it continually changes. Besides, the high-tech equipment needed to steal chip information currently costs more than $1 million.

It's safe to predict that over the next three years, you can expect to rid your wallet of most (if not all) remaining magnetic-stripe credit cards and replace them with EMV cards or even contactless cards.

Expansion of mobile wallet usage

Mobile wallets (sometimes referred to as "digital wallets") allow users to load card information onto a smartphone app, which they can then use to pay. The credit card information you store on the phone is encrypted to keep it safe.

The acceptance and adoption of mobile wallets has been swift in parts of the world like China, where 79% of Chinese smartphone users made use of their mobile wallets in 2018. At the same time, the adoption of mobile wallets has been much slower in the U.S. However, as consumers realize how convenient and secure a mobile wallet is to use, those percentages are expected to climb. And like any good trend, the more people who do it, the more there are who want to try.

Fingerprint scanners

Since the day credit cards were invented, issuers have looked for ways to make them more secure. Today, SmartMetric -- makers of biometric credit cards -- is in the final stage of manufacturing a card activated by the user's fingerprint. In less than a quarter of a second, an internal fingerprint scanner makes sure that the person using a card is the owner. No more worrying about someone lifting a card at an amusement park and using it to purchase tchotchkes.

Facial recognition

China's Alibaba Ant Financial has launched its "smile to pay" service near corporate offices in Hangzhou. No smartphone is required. If a customer has signed up for the Alipay app and enabled facial recognition, a 3D camera located at a point-of-sale location can scan their face to verify their identity and charge their stored credit card for the purchase. We can expect to see more of the same in the U.S. over the next three years, along with other biometric forms of recognition like retinal scanners.

Melt-away cards

This type of card may not be available within three years, but it's still worthy of mention. In what may turn out to be the coolest addition to credit card security ever, an Iowa State research team has developed transient materials (including internal electronics) that quickly and completely melt away when a trigger is activated. For example, you may be out holiday shopping, realize you have lost your credit card, and send a signal to destroy it. According to researchers, the transmission will be sent to the card in question, and special polymers now in development will cause the card to melt away, making it one of the surest ways to prevent credit card fraud.

Three years may not seem like a long time, but in the ever-expanding market of credit cards, those 36 months represent a race to see who can be first to offer the most significant new technology of the 21st century.

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