There is a new credit card in town, or actually it might be considered a step in making your credit card another mobile device. Sound crazy? Well, MasterCard is introducing its N26 Metal card, available to a select group of its customers in Europe, and though the added perks may not seem like much to non-Europeans, it may herald in a new generation of mobile technology specifically suited for everyday financial transactions.
First, the basics of the card. It is an NFC-enabled credit card, NFC meaning Near Field Communication, the kind of technology that allows you to hover your card over a terminal and pay without swiping. It is the same technology that allows two smartphones to exchange data without a connection. To accommodate this technology, the inner core of the card has been changed to tungsten, dramatically increasing the weight of the card. (Remember Ryan Bingham in the hotel bar scene in Up in the Air?)
Now it is not just the physical card but its connection with WeWork that is garnering all the attention. For those unfamiliar with WeWork, it is a company that advertises itself as a focal point to “transform buildings into dynamic environments for creativity, focus, and connection.” According to MasterCard, it has been created “to the needs of digital customers who expect easy on-demand access to the products and services they enjoy.” Reading between the lines, the primary target audience for this card is corporations and businesses, not the average consumer. Reviews from users who use it for travel throughout Europe or internationally have been stellar. It makes sense to expect the card itself to cost more to make than a piece of plastic, though we have no information on the replacement cost of a lost or stolen card.
Its realtime features enable the customer to turn payments on and off when traveling, turn online and ATM transactions on and off, set daily payments and withdrawal limits, and receive notifications after every transaction. This is the first credit card in Europe that supports contactless payments, and eligible customers must currently be a N26 Black cardholder in one of 4 countries: France, Italy, Austria, and Germany.
The question is, what does this seemingly modest advance in NFC credit card technology do for the future of credit cards for the common people? The first and perhaps the most important issue is card security. The N26 has been described as Europe’s “first mobile bank.” That means you can access all your bank accounts and perform transactions any time of the day or night. But there is the problem of access to all of your money through a single electronic medium. Incorporating biometric technology to use a credit card by replacing the current chip or chip and pin combination seems the best way to take advantage of this new tungsten metal layer.
Many companies are making solid profits by selling miniaturized technology that provide an audible sound for your lost car keys, wallet, or other everyday need-to-have items. Why not put that technology inside the card and let you know where your card is? Or maybe even better, it gives you an audible warning when your card strays too far from you. (Maybe not as extreme as the Transporter 3 solution, though there are sure to be some fans of this application:
One obstacle for its adaptation in the United States is that many security and financial experts recommend using a credit card rather than a debit card as it limits your exposure should your card be lost or stolen. The N26 allows you to lock down your card immediately by going online, but the time between discovering it is missing and locking it down can cost you a bundle. This places a huge responsibility on the bank, particularly the customer service people, which is why exclusive customer service is another feature of the N26 Metal card.
Is the N26 a harbinger of things to come for the average consumer? It is hard to say. But the current users of the standard N26 card have nothing but good things to say about it. If you travel a lot in Europe, currency exchange rates can add up quickly and cost you – about 1.7% per transaction. The N26 Metal eliminates that fee. Again, it initially targets corporate and business users, and its advantages are primarily directed to them.
For those old enough to remember, there were two major pieces of plastic before VISA and MasterCard were around – Diners Club and American Express. Look how far we have come.