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When and why do contactless limits matter?
The world is becoming more and more contactless. That includes the way people prefer to pay.
Over the past few years, consumers have been switching to contactless payment methods at an accelerated rate due to the mix of speed, convenience, and security they offer. And the onset of COVID-19 added health and safety concerns as additional drivers of the contactless payment trend.
In response to consumer demand, governments and issuers alike have increased transaction limits on contactless payment cards in order to reduce friction at the point of sale and keep commerce moving. It's important for businesses to keep up with the latest guidance on contactless limits to ensure regulatory compliance and deliver a smooth customer experience.
What are contactless limits?
A contactless payment limit—also referred to as a cardholder verification method (CVM) limit—is the maximum amount a customer can pay with a contactless card before they are prompted for a signature or PIN verification. These limits are in place to help protect consumers from fraud. Each country sets its own threshold, or leaves it up to the issuing or acquiring bank to determine. Here's a deeper look at contactless limits around the world.
Neither the US nor Canada have set contactless limits, leaving them instead to the discretion of card schemes and financial institutions. For instance in the US, Visa, Mastercard, and Discover have set their limits at $100 and American Express at $200. In Canada, Mastercard, Visa, and American Express have set limits at CA$250, while Interac limits are CA$100.
Countries in Europe have been more proactive in placing limits on contactless payments, directly addressing online payments within the Revised Payment Services Directive (PSD2) regulations adopted in 2015. These regulations cover the UK as well, since they withdrew from the European Union after its passing.
Contactless cards were introduced to the UK in 2007, and the contactless limit has gradually risen from £10 to £45 as of April 2020. This latest increase was in direct response to the heightened usage of contactless payments at the onset of the pandemic. According to the UK Treasury, the proportion of debit card payments using contactless grew from four out of 10 pre-pandemic, to six out of 10 by September 2020.
In 2021, the contactless limit is set to increase even further to £100. The UK Financial Conduct Authority made this allowance in hopes that “we could see more consumers using contactless card payments for higher value transactions such as purchasing fuel and weekly groceries without needing to use chip and PIN."
Given the consumer trend toward contactless payments around the world, this most recent increase will likely encourage further adoption.
Contactless limits vary across EU member states as individual countries and financial institutions set their own limits. In fact, many European countries announced contactless limit increases in response to the spread of COVID-19.
Additionally, payment service providers can apply for exemptions from Strong Customer Authentication (SCA) requirements, enacted as part of PSD2 aimed at reducing electronic payment fraud. SCA exemptions remove the added customer friction that comes from requiring multi-factor authentication with contactless payments.
- Low-value transactions: An exemption can be applied to a certain number of low-value transactions before requiring authentication, or once the combined value of multiple payments exceeds €100.
- Low-risk transactions: Payment providers with low fraud rates—as defined by PSD2—can use real-time transaction risk analysis to apply for exemptions on behalf of its sellers up to €500.
- Recurring payments: For subscriptions or other recurring transactions that are the exact amount each time, customers only need to authorize the payment the first time.
- Trusted seller status: A consumer can request to whitelist a business as safe, removing the need to authenticate additional transactions once approved by the issuer.
Countries within this region have the highest rate of contactless payment adoption. A 2020 Mastercard study found that 91% of Asian consumers were using contactless payments, either via digital wallets or contactless cards.
However, there isn't a standard contactless limit across borders in the region, with each country either setting its own rules or letting financial institutions, merchants, or cardholders determine their own limits. Here are some of the current contactless limits for key countries at the time of this article:
- Australia: A$200
- China: CN¥1000
- Hong Kong: HK$1,000
- India: Rs. 5,000
- New Zealand: NZ$200
As contactless payments continue to grow in popularity and issuers continue to make the switch to contactless payment cards, understanding how contactless limits affect individual businesses will be increasingly important.
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