Are card machines going to disappear?

September 8, 2020

What does the future hold for card machines?

As debit card usage continues to rise, we’re also seeing contactless payments increase in popularity. Contactless accounted for half of debit card transactions in July in 2019.

Does that mean that debit and credit cards are soon to disappear? Will card machines become obsolete too? With the financial industry possibly moving towards cryptocurrencies and artificial intelligence, it’s likely we’ll see a big change in the way we manage cash flow, payment acceptance and certain financial products.

Although debit cards are still highly profitable for banks and specialist companies, the card machine itself may get discarded.

What are the alternatives?

Although card machines and debit cards are still widespread, some interesting alternatives have turned up that may become the most popular payment method.

Alternative card readers

More and more companies are offering specialist software together with a small handheld device that acts as a card reader to accept payments with ease. These accept NFC payments as well as chip and pin payments.

They are not like a traditional POS terminal as they are much smaller, cheaper and easier to handle. However, they still require you to use a piece of hardware in order to accept payments.


Wearables are the next step from mobile apps, and completely remove debit and credit cards from the equation. They come in the form of wristbands, glasses and watches, and allow consumers to pay without having to take out their smartphones.

Wearables use NFC technology, and are already catching on very quickly thanks to their convenience. Barclays is an example of a bank that recently launched a wearable called BPAY, which allows customers to use the wristband for any kind of contactless payments.

Social payments

Imagine being able to pay for a product through tweets or Facebook posts? That’s social payments in a nutshell. As more and more people use social media to connect with brands and purchase products, social media networks are interested in turning themselves into payment processors.

This allows retailers to market their products to a larger audience on social media, streamline the payment process and expand opportunities to connect with customers.  

QR code payments

This type of payment is similar to using a POS terminal, the one difference being that all you need to accept payments is something you already have: a mobile phone.

The process consists of a barcode type image that contains information of the merchant and payment provider. QR codes can be used on digital screens or even printed out and used offline. This kind of technology is incredibly efficient as it completely removes the need for cards, payment terminals and any sort of plastic.

It also enhances customer experience as clients can quickly scan the code, insert their card details or use Apple/Google Pay and complete the payment. This can be done in-person, on the go or online, through an email.

What are the challenges?

More and more payment alternatives are turning up, many of which are cost-effective, better for the planet and offer an intuitive customer experience. This encourages a strong consumer trend towards a card-less and card terminal-less future.

However, as with any kind of innovation, there are still challenges that businesses face before card machines and cards can be overtaken as the main payment method.  

User adoption

The main areas of concern when it comes to card machines are user adoption; how will customers be attracted to alternative payment options? Most mobile payment services and wallets don’t offer enough added value to entice hesitant consumers. For example, most mobile payment methods don’t offer rewards and promotions to those making purchases.

Also, nowadays consumers are dealing with decision fatigue. With five different ways of making a payment, it’s understandable that consumers are hesitant before adopting yet another one. At the end of the day, consumers just want something that is simple, intuitive and easy to use – but there are hundreds of companies that say they offer this.


As debit cards have been in circulation for 30 years, banks have established systems to deal with fraud and risk. However, a new payment system requires a new infrastructure that banks must deal with. Bank breaches and scams are widely reported in the news, meaning everyone is well aware of the dangers that come with digital banking.

In addition, many smartphone users are anxious about the huge amount of data that mobile phones aggregate in general. Adding sensitive financial information means security needs to be made a top priority.

Slow infrastructure

The last significant challenge for mobile payments is that it is still a relatively new payment system and industry. Some shops and merchants are just recently upgrading to digital payment systems with card terminals, and now we’re telling them they need to upgrade to NFC terminals and mobile payments? For some merchants, this is a process that could take months or even years.

Are card machines going to disappear? Most likely, but it may take some time. It depends on how quickly consumers are willing to adopt a new payment method (see how customers are uncomfortable buying at an Amazon Go store).

It must also be cost-effective and secure for businesses if they are to take it up. At the end of the day, the most convenient option will win, it is just a matter of time before consumers take the leap.