Plastic makes the Switch to cyberspace

Debit cards are set to become even more popular, says Faith Glasgow

Think back to the last time you queued in the bank to cash a cheque rather than using your card to withdraw money from a cashpoint. Was it months or even years ago?

Running out of cash is no longer a disaster now that you can use a Switch card in supermarkets, filling stations and restaurants. Many places also offer a "cash-back" option for those caught short. And what about booking cinema seats or travel tickets by phone? It takes a couple of minutes now - but a few years ago you would have put a cheque in the post and crossed your fingers to make sure it arrived safely.

The rise of plastic is gathering speed. And the biggest growth is in the use of debit cards. These take the cash straight out of your account rather than putting your debt on a separate account as a credit card does. Debit cards are known under the Switch brand name in the UK but we'll eventually be issued cards under the international brand name Maestro.

According to Europay (which has 80 per cent of the European debit card market share) the number of purchases made using debit cards has shot up by almost 40 per cent in the last 12 months. Globally, the debit card revolution is even more marked - transactions have roughly doubled each year since 1996.

Debit cards are convenient and give you instant access to the money in your own account. They are particularly useful for those who don't have access to credit cards but need to pay with plastic. And they are very handy for lower value purchases, which you'd expect to pay for from your current account.

But there are drawbacks, and these are mostly debt related. It's very hard to keep track of expenditure when you use your debit card all the time, and casual card purchases or a forgotten cashpoint withdrawal could tip your precarious current account over into the red. Make a point of keeping all your receipts - this is useful for checking against your statement and in case someone uses your card number fraudulently.

Within the UK you can use Switch cards to order goods or services over the phone. But Brian Morris, electronic commerce manager at Europay, says that there are no plans to allow international transactions. "We don't feel there's high enough security; we don't want anyone who finds a card to be able to make purchases by phone around the world."

The internet has also posed a hurdle for card issuers. So-called e-commerce transactions are doubling every 12 months and set to continue to grow exponentially; cards account for around 88 per cent of those purchases. But in the UK at the moment only credit cards are accepted by internet merchants. Because debit cards involve payment straight from a customer's account they have been seen as too much of a security risk, Mr Morris explains.

That has now been sorted out in the form of a software system, SET, which is installed on your computer. It ensures both your authenticity as the purchaser and that of the firm selling to you. It is already possible to use debit cards for internet purchases in Holland, and Mr Morris says that other European countries, including the UK, will be set up for SET by the middle of next year.

But it looks like the security problem will be solved anyway by embedding microchips in new debit cards. This process will mean that all the necessary data on you and your account is held securely in a microchip in the card, rather than on the old-fashioned and easily accessed magnetic strip.

Over the next few years chip cards will open up internet shopping and also herald the arrival of multi-functional cards (for example incorporating loyalty schemes and electronic small change as well as access to your bank account). Plastic has never been so flexible.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
The Queen and the letter sent to Charlie
Arts and Entertainment
Eurovision Song Contest 2015
EurovisionGoogle marks the 2015 show
Two lesbians hold hands at a gay pride parade.
peopleIrish journalist shares moving story on day of referendum
Arts and Entertainment
<b>Kathryn Williams</b>
When I was supporting Ray La Montagne I was six months pregnant. He had been touring for a year and he was exhausted and full of the cold. I was feeling motherly, so I would leave presents for him and his band: Tunnock's Tea Cakes, cold remedies and proper tea. Ray seemed painfully shy. He hardly spoke, hardly looked at you in the face. I felt like a dick speaking to him, but said "hi" every day. </p>
He was being courted by the same record company who had signed me and subsequently let me go, and I wanted him to know that there were people around who didn't want anything from him. At the Shepherds Bush Empire in London, on the last night of the tour, Ray stopped in his set to thank me for doing the support. He said I was a really good songwriter and people should buy my stuff. I was taken aback and felt emotionally overwhelmed. Later that year, just before I had my boy Louis, I was l asleep in bed with Radio 4 on when Louis moved around in my belly and woke me up. Ray was doing a session on the World Service. </p>
I really believe that Louis recognised the music from the tour, and when I gave birth to him at home I played Ray's record as something that he would recognise to come into the world with. </p>
booksKathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
Liz Kendall played a key role in the introduction of the smoking ban
newsLiz Kendall: profile
Life and Style
techPatent specifies 'anthropomorphic device' to control media devices
The PM proposed 'commonsense restrictions' on migrant benefits
voicesAndrew Grice: Prime Minister can talk 'one nation Conservatism' but putting it into action will be tougher
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Neil Pavier: Management Accountant

£45,000 - £55,000: Neil Pavier: Are you looking for your next opportunity for ...

Sheridan Maine: Commercial Accountant

£45,000 - £55,000: Sheridan Maine: Are you a newly qualified ACA/ACCA/ACMA qua...

Laura Norton: Project Accountant

£50,000 - £60,000: Laura Norton: Are you looking for an opportunity within a w...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?