Those of us of a certain vintage can remember when credit card transactions were always accompanied by a distinct sound. The sales clerk would put the card in a simple machine, put a carbon-paper packet on top, and get an impression of the embossed numbers by sliding the machine’s lever, with a click-clack.
The machines are called zip-zaps, and I still see them used in a few places — mostly small stores or arts festivals, where credit card volumes are small or electricity scarce.
Visa issued a death blow to the onomatopoeiacally named zip-zaps this week. It announced it would support the issuance of unembossed consumer credit, business debit and consumer debit cards. It had allowed prepaid cards to go without the raised letters since 2005, but after running pilot programs, decided this week to let all its cards go flat.
The advantage for Visa is that it will let more bank branches issue credit cards instantly, since the machines that issue flat cards are more like simple printers. Embossing is more time-consuming and costly.
“Being able to instantly provide members with Visa cards has helped us drive activation, usage and loyalty while reducing costs,” said Michael Ver Schuur, executive vice president at United Heritage Credit Union, in Visa’s press release. United Heritage participated in a pilot program testing the unembossed Visa cards.