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COVID-19 concerns prompt new interest in cashless payments
Rep. French Hill's bill would reduce human contact in payments

Washington, April 28, 2020 -

By Steven Harras | April 28, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has fanned public concerns that the coronavirus could be transmitted by handling cash, according to a recent report by the Switzerland-based Bank of International Settlements, prompting merchants and members of Congress to contemplate more sanitary, hands-off digital payment systems.

Although the BIS report says the scientific evidence suggests the probability of coronavirus transmission through banknotes and coins is low compared with other frequently touched objects, consumer anxiety about physical forms of currency could speed up the trend towards cashless, touchless payments.

The pandemic has already led one of Congress’ most prominent proponents of innovative financial technology to introduce legislation that would reduce the physical contact a consumer must make with payment terminals and related objects when making an in-store purchase.

Rep. French Hill, R-Ark., a member of the House Financial Services Committee’s Task Force on Financial Technology, last month proposed legislation that would establish that any swipe, dip or tap transaction at a merchant point-of-sale terminal wouldn’t trigger a signature requirement.

Republicans on the Financial Services Committee said in a memo when the legislation was introduced March 12 that innovation in credit and debit transaction verification means that signatures for such transactions are no longer necessary, and "eliminating the practice can cut down on the spread of the virus.

“The purpose of my legislation is to lessen the amount of direct person-to-person contact that happens during point-of-sale transactions to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” Hill told CQ Roll Call last week. He said he hopes the bill “will not only help the short-term effects of the pandemic, but can also have longer-term impacts by bringing awareness and potential modernization to our current payment infrastructure.”

Hill’s legislation has the support of the Financial Services Committee’s top Republican, Rep. Patrick T. McHenry of North Carolina.

“We can’t take on a new threat with old tactics,” McHenry said in a written statement when the bill was introduced. “We need to take a 21st century approach to combating the impacts of a public health crisis in our modern world.”

The BIS report notes that because the novel coronavirus survives best on nonporous materials, such as plastic or stainless steel, “debit or credit card terminals or PIN pads could transmit the virus too.”

The Electronic Transactions Association, an advocate for public policies that foster financial technology, points out that experts believe the coronavirus can remain viable as many as five days on plastic and four days on paper, which raises issues about the use of credit cards, terminals, cash and receipts.

Read the full article in Roll Call here.

Visit Financial Services Committee Republicans’ website for additional resources and updates on efforts to mitigate the economic impact of coronavirus on consumers. 

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