MasterCard's futuristic Display Card credit card has been launched by Standard Chartered Bank in Singapore as the global payments network attempts to head off the threat posed to plastic money by emerging technologies such as smartphones using near-field communication (NFC).
Featuring an embedded on/off button, LCD screen and a 12-digit PIN keypad, Display Card is a big step up in security by the primitive standards of today's credit cards.
Users insert the card into a sales terminal as normal, entering their chip and PIN pin number. Turning on the Display Card makes it possible for the system to generate a one-time password (OTP) that has to be entered immediately on the embedded keypad.
In effect this combines the token reader technology used by some banks today with the physical card itself, doing away with a layer of inconvenience. It also makes it impossible for criminals using stolen credit card data to siphon money or goods without having the card itself.
Because the system is built in at the level of a global network, there is also potential for it to be used by multiple banks and issuers through a single card.
The downside is that the user has to enter two sets of numbers when buying items, which could cause queues to slow down. Banks and issuers will see that as worth it as long as the cards themselves don't add to consumer costs.
In the future, consumers would also be able to use the embedded LCD to get information on their bank balances, loyalty points and lists of recent transactions, MasterCard said.
"MasterCard continues to be at the forefront of payment technology. From launching the first 'paper' card in the 1950s, to introducing magnetic stripes and EMV chips for secure, digitised payments, we are pleased to have been able to support the launch of Singapore's first Display Card by Standard Chartered," said MasterCard's Matthew Driver.
The technology for the system was provided by NagraID Security in collaboration with Gemalto.
The Display Card has been around for a couple of years, albeit launched quietly in out of the way corners of the banking world such as by BNP Paribas Turkish subsidiary TEB, which started offering the system in November 2011.
Having used chip and PIN technology since 2004, Europeans will experience the technology as a two-factor extension of a familiar principle; US users, still stuck in the insecure signature age, might find it more of a shock to the system. What is less clear is how quick the Display Card will reach mainstream users in these regions.
That could give rival mobile banking vendors plenty of encouragement in their attempts to displace plastic-based payments.