/ Money

Why aren’t chip and signature cards easy to get hold of?

The Payments Council is launching a new campaign to promote chip and signature credit and debit cards. At Which? we welcome the campaign, but why are eligible consumers struggling to get chip and signature cards?

At the end of 2011, we conducted an investigation into chip and signature cards offered by the big banks. We found that many call handlers failed to offer chip and signature cards as an option for those who couldn’t physically key in or remember a Pin.

In most ways, chip and signature cards are identical to chip and Pin cards. However, they are designed for people who cannot use chip and Pin due to memory problems, visual impairment or lack of mobility.

Why bother with chip and signature?

Once a chip and signature card is inserted into a card terminal, the customer is prompted to provide their signature, rather than enter a Pin, to authorise the payment. All banks and building societies are required to offer these cards and all retailers are obliged to accept them.

In our research, we used an undercover fieldworker posing as a customer who had recently suffered a mild stroke and was unable to key digits into a Pin terminal. Our fieldworker then asked the banks if they would offer an alternative to a chip and Pin debit card.

Very few of the banks handled our calls in the way we would have expected. Many gave incorrect information about the right to be issued with a chip and signature card, while others had poorly trained staff who were unable to answer our questions.

Is it worth the risk?

With an ageing population and over 10 million disabled people in the UK, it’s a stark reality that many people cannot use chip and Pin cards easily. There’s a feeling that banks are sometimes unwilling to offer chip and signature cards as it’s easier for them to limit their liability against fraud with chip and Pin cards.

Do you think the continued use of chip and signature cards poses a security threat and encourages potential fraudsters? Or do you think the potential security risks should be shouldered by the banks?


I think the reality is that there are certain people that the banks just don’t want as card-holding customers but they’re not allowed to say so. I had no idea that chip & sig was available to people – I have never seen it carried out in a shop and I have no idea how the signature is verified; I suspect that most retail staff do not know how to process such a payment properly. The banks [and retailers] obviously don’t want chip & sig to proliferate, especially since most debit and credit cards have the holder’s signature on the back.

I’ve NEVER had a CHiP and PIN card because I have refused to have one. My understanding of the law, as explained to me by a Citizen’s Advice Beureau officer before PIN became standard, is that by law banks MUST give a signature card to any customer who asks for one, “on demand”, and not just because of a disability.

Nat West, with whom I bank, have certainly agreed that the customer is under no obligation to prove that they have a disability when requesting a signature card.

The Co-Op bank, on the other hand, have an atrocious record on this and have denied that signature cards exist and have even accused me of having found some “work round” with which I am using terminal key pads to ‘trick’ the terminals in to asking for a signature. They still stuck to this accusation when I inserted my Nat West card into a terminal in the Co-Op bank, in front of a manager who had been called by the teller, and who could see that I was not touching the keys at all. So much for Ethical banking!

I do have a sight disability and this does cause issues with many, but not all terminals, but having a signature card means that I don’t have to worry about this.

However, the reason that I consulted Citizens Advice before PIN became ‘normal’ was because the banks quietly changed the terms and conditions when PIN came in to make it far, far harder for customers to prove that they had NOT disclosed their personal details, but much easier for banks to absolve themselves of any responsibility or liability, in the case of fraudulent transactions.

I welcome this campaign and hope that it will go far.

Paul S says:
28 May 2015

I asked for chip & signature back in 2006(?) when chip & pin came out. Why? Because I remember the “phantom withdrawals” when cashpoints came out. My interest is (obviously and quite reasonably) minimising my own exposure to fraud.

If the bank’s computer says “the PIN was entered” how on earth can I be sure I could prove it wasn’t me? Hope CCTV existed or I had a provable meeting on the day, prove I didn’t give my card and PIN to a friend or write it down? If the computer says a PIN was entered, it’s going to be assumed I entered it. The one thing we know about technology is hackability (by modifying terminals, intercepting data, hacking banks and payment services, whatever) and the banks historical response was blunt rejection. Current research papers continually show new hacks, not forgetting the easiest: observation (despite care) of the PIN.

A PIN system is good for the bank – it places the burden of proof on customers, and bank historical response was denial unless full proof was available which often it just wouldn’t be. I didn’t want to have to prove that I *didn’t* buy some £2000 item. I decided “once bitten twice shy”. My chip+signature card lets me demand 100% proof that’s capable of fair and full forensic analysis, whether I myself signed or it’s a forgery signed by someone else. Whether the remaining risks are bourne by the bank or merchant is completely unimportant to me.

I’ve had chip and sign cards since chip and pin was introduced.
Now I’m told by my bank (Barclays) that all counter transactions have to be pin verified, even with a signature card, and given the again (incorrect) answer that all cards with a chip have a pin.
Indeed, that the fact the card has a chip is proof there’s a pin.