New Payment Tech at the 2012 Olympics

September 12, 2012 // Technology

Article Written By:  Mark Alcock | Retail Manager | Mercantile Bank of Michigan

So, anyone that knows me knows two things about me; I love to travel and I love gadgets! If I can travel and have a gadget, then it’s pretty much nirvana for me.

This past summer I was fortunate enough to attend the Olympics in my home city of London. It was truly an amazing experience to see athletes and spectators from all over the world come together to celebrate incredible feats of human performance. Sometimes, the athletes, brand new to the sport thanks to certain entry allotments for certain countries, came in a long way down the field, but no matter, they were at the Olympics and people cheered them on anyhow.

Before heading to London though, or any country for that matter, there is always the logistical issue of money. Should I take cash, a debit card, a credit card, a travel card….. Anyone thinking Traveler’s Cheques, you are really dating yourself as these are now becoming increasingly hard to find and sometimes even harder to cash. The Olympics more than any other event, highlighted just how far payment systems have evolved the world over.

First, in order to purchase tickets for the event, you could only purchase them using a Visa card. Sorry, your Mastercard or American Express card was not welcome as a result of an exclusive corporate sponsorship deal that Visa has with the Olympic organizers. Once you overcame that hurdle, next up was how you were going to pay for merchandise and concessions once you were at the events. This was also a simple answer in the eyes of organizers; cash or Visa again. This time though, there was something different about Visa, and that was the enormous push at the Olympic venues towards contact-less payments.

Europe has worked on a Chip and PIN system for years which means there is a chip embedded on the front of your card that you place into a payment terminal and enter your four digit PIN. In restaurants they bring the terminal to your table (wirelessly) so the card never leaves your sight and therefore reduces the risk of someone taking your card details without your knowledge. The reduction in fraud in those countries that use Chip and PIN has been enormous and is making it harder and harder for American visitors to get by with their traditional magnetic stripe cards. So, Chip and PIN has been effective, but like everything, what if you could make the payment process even quicker, and that is where contact-less payments come in.

Quite simply, it does what it says on the box i.e., your card has an additional chip embedded inside the plastic which when placed 1-2 inches above a contact-less terminal will authenticate payment and debit the card. When I heard about this, in my mind it was quite clear that I had to have a contact-less card!!!

It was hard to find a merchant that would offer one in the US, but after some searching I found not only a contactless payment solution, but even better, it was attached to a watch. $50 and a few days later, I was the proud owner of a RumbaTime GoPayments watch! It had to be preloaded as it currently doesn’t take funds directly from your own bank account, so I loaded a small amount of money onto it and headed to London. I wanted to try it before I got there so I tried it in McDonald’s on the way to O’Hare (third thing people know about me, I love the golden arches)! Once at the games I used it twice and got the same reaction both times:

“Did you just pay for that with your watch?”


“That’s cool!”

You can’t really argue with the cool factor or the speed at which the transactions were approved. Now, I know there are always going to be the people questioning the security aspect of such devices, but given the chip will only work within a 1-2 inch distance from the terminal, it really is safe. Again, think back to when you paid for your bill in a restaurant recently; how long was the card out of your sight, and how many people got to look at the numbers on the card?

Going one step further than just contact-less cards, cell phone manufacturers are getting in on the action and making the SIM card (the card inside your phone that holds your cell number and contact details) a contact-less payment card. Samsung had a limited edition Olympic version of their new Galaxy SIII phone which they gave to people to demo. It had a preloaded SIM card and also an application on the phone that provided an additional layer of security to the device. Once the phone was held over the terminal, the app would appear on the screen asking for your PIN to authenticate. Again, cool just about sums it up in my mind!!

So, when you think of the old marketing phrase “Don’t leave home without it” it could be talking more about your phone or watch than a certain plastic card.

Visit for more information about the contact-less watch I used, and visit Visa for information about Visa PayWave technology and Mastercard for information about Mastercard PayPass (also a contact-less payment technology).

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