Payments and the London Olympics

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16 July 2012
Zilvinas Bareisis
It's less than two weeks until the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games. The Olympic spirit is already in the air in London with all sort of preparations entering their final stages. A section of M4, a major motorway connecting the West of the UK with London was closed for a few days last week causing havoc - all to make sure it can cope with the increased traffic from Heathrow. No doubt, London will be ready to welcome thousands of athletes and guests that will be arriving from next week. If only the weather would be more welcoming as it's been a terrible summer so far - chilly, rainy and windy... There has been an increased interest from our clients and press in the Olympics-related payments topics as well. Is Visa right in monopolising payments for the Olympics? Will all those who receive Samsung Galaxy S III NFC phones to try out new NFC payments be aware of the potential security risks? And why were the ambitious plans to upgrade the London transport infrastructure to accept NFC delayed? Indeed, as a worldwide sponsor of the Olympics, Visa is investing heavily in payment innovations, such as NFC and contactless and promoting its brand. The Olympic tickets could be paid for only with a Visa card - not that big of a deal in the UK, as most UK debit cards are now issued under Visa brand, but I imagine, a bit of a nuissance for those in other countries who may not have a Visa card. Most recently, the press reported Visa requesting that the existing ATMs in the Olympic Village, which would have accepted all Link cards, were switched off and replaced with eight new machines which would only accept Visa cards. While no one disputes Visa's right to certain privileges as a major sponsor, it is arguably not the most elegant way to endear your brand to the users. Also, Visa and Samsung, another worldwide Olympics sponsor, have started distributing 1,000 Samsung Galaxy S III NFC phones with a Visa payments app to key stakeholders and decision makers for use during the Olympics. All POS terminals at the Games will be able to accept Visa PayWave contactless payments and the distribution of phones is expected to help promote wider adoption of NFC and contactless services. Those with a chance to try out the new app are reporting favourable first impressions. However, there was also a lot of buzz around a recent blog from McAfee, a security software firm, which (perhaps not that surprisingly) warned about the potential security risks, particularly if the hackers used the so-called "fuzzing" technique. My personal view is that while these risks are real, the organisers are busy making sure they address much bigger and more immediate security concerns around the Olympics. It's only natural that many people will find their own relevant angle to the Olympics. However, I am sure London 2012 will not be remembered for what it did or did not do for payments. Lets hope it is remembered for all the right reasons - sportsmanship, passion, spectacle and lasting legacy. Let the games begin and lets enjoy them!


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