In this post, former Director of Engagement and Operations Brian Byrne shares insights on his time at EMVCo, the evolution of payments over the last decade and more, and the ever-important role of global specifications. Brian stepped down from his role at the start of the year, when EMVCo welcomed Oliver Manahan as its new Director of Engagement and Operations.

How long have you been involved with EMVCo?

The start of 2023 marked my 31st year in payments, my 23rd year of involvement with EMV® technology and my 10th year as the Director of Engagement and Operations for EMVCo. I can’t think of a more appropriate time to hand over my role, and I’m delighted that EMVCo has appointed Oliver to be my successor.

What are some of the changes you’ve observed in payments during your tenure?

My first interaction with payments technology came in 1994 when I was asked to investigate the causes of payment card magnetic stripe failure in the United States. That led to my championing of the replacement of easily erased low-coercivity magnetic media with more durable high-coercivity stripes.  The irony was not lost on me when six years later I was promoting EMV technology and one of the criticisms I heard was “Why should we read a chip on a card? The magnetic stripe works just fine.”

In the past years I have observed, and been part of, dramatic changes in the card payment landscape. But that first experience with magnetic stripes reminded me that no matter how much card payments have evolved, the core principles remain the same. A successful physical or virtual card payment transaction needs to balance convenience with control. While it varies around the world, consumers and retailers hate transaction friction and love convenience. Many attempts to control card fraud have floundered because the friction around the implementation or adoption of a solution was too high.

How has the role of EMVCo evolved over the last decade?

What I have appreciated most about being part of EMVCo is the critical role that it serves in helping payments stakeholders around the world to strike the convenience and control balance that’s right for them. At the same time, the same stakeholders are deploying a technology that supports the most crucial customer promise – that when you want to pay for something, no matter where you are, your card will work.

The scope of EMVCo’s work has also evolved to meet the rapid developments in card-based payments. When I started with EMVCo, EMV Chip terminals and EMV Chip cards were pretty much our world. As EMV Chip delivered success in fighting counterfeit fraud at the face-to-face point-of-sale, the fraud moved to other card-based transactions and EMVCo responded. EMV Specifications now add security to all modes of payment that ride on the card rails, including phones, digital wallets, and electronic commerce. Few consumers realise that when they tap a mobile phone on a contactless reader, an EMV Specification facilitates communication between the devices, and another shields the card account number.

I have greatly appreciated being part of the evolution of EMVCo as an organisation. When I started as a payment system Board Manager in 2006, only three of the six global payment systems participated in EMVCo and over half of our Board of Advisors were European financial institutions. Now all the global payment systems are part of EMVCo, and the Advisors who vote on the publication of EMV Specifications are a geographically diverse group of banks, merchants, processors, and technology providers.

Any closing thoughts?

I would like to acknowledge all the incredible subject matter experts that I have worked with over the years. When I was first asked to be a leader on the technology side of card payments my reaction was to say, “You do know both my degrees are in business, right?” I was told not to worry because the people I worked with, and the people who worked for me, had all the subject matter expertise EMVCo would need. That turned out to be far more true than I could have imagined. There are way too many of you to list everyone here – from the management team and secretariats to the working groups, to the Associates and Subscribers – I’m proud of the success we’ve achieved together over the past decade. I will be following with interest the further evolution of EMVCo and EMV technologies, and I know that I am leaving EMVCo in very capable hands.