Why are contactless payment methods faster than inserting the chip?


I found it weird that a wireless technology happens to be faster than a payment method that has actual physical contact with the payment reader. It just seems like it’s the other way around. Like most things are faster when they have a direct wired connection or in this case physical contact but somehow when paying, inserting the chip takes longer than the contactless payment method. Why is that?

In: 109

The time is not spent by the machine communicating with the card. When you do chip and pin the card machine is communicating with the bank or credit card provider, and checking that the card is genuine and can afford the payment. This takes non-negligible time. In a contactless payment the vendor doesn’t check the card and just takes a risk that it isn’t genuine. The transaction will be settled up at the end of the day. This is why there are generally limits on the value of transaction that you can do contactlessly; it protects the vendor from being left out of pocket for a large sum.

*Edit: this answer is Eurocentric. I understand that the technology may be different in other places, though in that case I doubt there would be a noticeable difference in speed.*

The amount of data being transmitted is tiny so the communication speed is not an issue. Contactless wins because you just have to position the card reasonably close to the reader. For contactless you have to align the card in a slot and insert which takes longer.

Dipping the EMV chip credit card and tapping a contactless credit card takes the same time in my experience. This is the bank process. It may seem slower only because they make you pull the card out once the entire charge slip printout is done, whereas you can remove the tapped card before the slip is printed for example.

There’s a possibility that the protocol is different elsewhere and EMV processing really needs the card to be in until charge slip printout. But that’s a design flaw if so from when banks didn’t think it’s needed optimize.

It’s all based on software. Most software that were developed for machines that only accepted insert and swipe were developed badly with “inefficient” code. It was also made pre-2000 era.

Now these software connects to payment gateways that are older than my grandpa. Thus, the development and re-engineering for that code is difficult and very tedious (languages are old and outdated, no documentation and devs back then didn’t like to leave comments for some reason so we gotta figure out what entity works with what). Also, any major iterations will likely need to get re-certified. No one wants to work on that.

So most of the time, companies would port w/ minor changes to the code such as optimization, compatibility, to the new device. However, since Contactless Payments were developed in the 2000s w/ the addition of NFC on mobile devices shortly after, the development of that code is much more optimized for modern devices.

Tap and chip have the same level of safety (from the merchant’s end), technically, the chip is safer to prevent fraud, but when it’s tap any chargeback will have a liability shift (all chargebacks goes to MC/Visa/Amex instead of the merchant [at least in Canada]). From the customer’s end, there’s no difference. Tap is simply more convenient.

Also, if you want to know the safest and convenient way to pay: Apple Pay / Google Pay.

The reason why I always encourage people to pay with their digital wallets is because of traceability. What u/BaggyHairyNips mentioned is right. When you register your card with Apple Pay/GPay, you don’t just save your card on there. Apple/Google creates a token from your card (basically puts all of your cardholder data [number, exp date, name, CVV as of recently] and encrypts all of that and hashes it out) and pays everything with that token. This not only guarantees that the card is not a fraud for the merchant (as you can’t have a stolen card on a digital wallet [unless you stole the phone and know the password]) as well as from the consumer’s end, you have instant traceability (Apple/Google will have their own transaction history on the phone) so you don’t need to wait till the transaction settles EOD to figure out if something went wrong or not.

Also, do note that this is kinda the order for the regions the most advanced in payment security to the least (note that this is mostly based on eCommerce, as security for Card Present is similar around the world):

Europe (requires SCA, 3DS)

Canada (most merchants adopted 3DS)


USA (lack of 3DS implementation for some key merchants)



Source: I work for a Fortune 500 in the payment industry.

Contactless and contact methods have different processing flows.


See Page 9 for Contact and Page 21 for Contactless. You don’t need to know the exact specifications, but look at the pink box between the card/device and the reader. For Contact, observe there are 3 round trip communications; for Contactless, there are 2.