First there was the contactless revolution; now, credit and debit cards are becoming countless.
Increasingly, banks are relegating information such as the 16-digit number and expiration date to the back of the card, while a few go out of their way and not print it anywhere.
For decades, bank cards have basically looked the same: quite utilitarian, with the account holder’s name, long number, and “valid from” and “expiration” dates usually on the front (more, in the case of debit cards, account number and sort code) and the card’s three-digit security code usually on the back.
However, it is now increasingly common to see a fairly simple and uncluttered facade, or perhaps an eye-catching image (like a bright yellow beach hut), with numbers and other personal information printed on the back.
At the beginning of 2020, a payment service called Curve announced that it had launched “the first numberless cards in Europe”. These cards, made available to the company’s investors, had all numbers removed.
Since then in the UK, digital bank Chase has been pushing the fully numberless debit card you get with its current account. He says this adds an extra layer of security for customers. But while the move was welcomed by some customers, others wondered how easy it was to pay for items online or over the phone.
Among the big banks, there is certainly a trend. Barclaycard revamped its credit cards earlier this year to remove numbers from the front, while NatWest began rolling out new debit cards – where “all the usual card information is now on the back” – in April.
Halifax, HSBC and First Direct are just a few of the others that have done the same.
Some will wonder if the shifting of the numbers to the back and other design changes are cosmetic only, as banks try to woo the “Instagram generation” by refreshing their products.
But there are other factors at play, some of which reflect the rapid rise of digital wallet services like Apple Pay. First Direct says its redesign means your card will be easier to find if you’re scrolling through a digital wallet.
Meanwhile, HSBC says it wanted the front card design “to be simple, clean and effective for the benefit of our customers with disabilities. By moving all the text to the back of the card, we were able to make the text bigger and bolder without interrupting the front design of the card. He adds that moving the numbers backwards “comes with an improved level of security”, as it means your card details are less visible to people nearby.
Chase, which launched in the UK last September, says a customer’s card details are stored behind a secure connection on its app, so people don’t put their personal data at risk if they lose their physical card. He adds that if a customer needs to replace their card details, they can instantly generate new ones in the app.
However, a customer tweeted that their numberless card was “boring”, adding: “Every time I pay I have to open the account and find the number instead of just looking at a card and typing in the number. A little useless security.
The bank says your card details can be quickly accessed in the app by tapping on the blue card at the top of the home screen and then tapping “view details”.
If you return or collect something and are asked for a card number, that means you need to find the transaction in the app and scroll down to “card ending with”. Most places should only need to see the last four digits, he adds.
A spokesperson said, “We consistently hear from customers that they see having an unnumbered card as a benefit to protect against fraud and theft.
A customer tweeted that switching to Chase was “the best thing I’ve ever done”, and that cards without numbers meant that if there were any problems, “they just change the card number remotely, and no need to send one unless you lose it. If you lose it, there are no details about it for a scammer to use it.
Armen Najarian at Outseer, which specializes in anti-fraud solutions, says that even for vendors such as Chase that don’t have a number on their cards, “a card number exists numerically, so vulnerabilities still exist.” He adds: “In the overwhelming majority of cases of fraud, the fraudster never sees the card because these attacks tend to happen online…So if a card number exists – physically or digitally – it is at to win”.
Santander has launched countless maps in places like Mexico but says he currently has no plans to introduce them to the UK.
Guardian Money spoke to a UK bank who said they had considered going down the numberless route but decided against it. “Removing all card details forces customers to obtain them digitally,” the bank said, adding that many people are not digitally active.
However, David Griffiths of payment technology company Contis says: “Not printing card numbers on the back of the card is currently a bit of a novelty. But if people come to believe that it makes their information safer, demand for such cards will increase. Primarily, I think countless maps look neat, and we’re going to see more of them because they look neat.