Tokenization, Meet Account Updater

Some six years after both MasterCard and Visa enabled retailers to automatically update credit card information—a capability that many chains never opted to use—Cybersource on Monday (Oct. 19) said that it is automating that process for its customers but added a nice twist: It would automatically update the tokens that replaced the changed cards.

This approach isn't much of a technological innovation. All the vendor is doing is adding a script that leverages the data the brands have been offering for years. But it's a script that no one else has yet bothered to create. That said, given the number of retailers that never chose to use the original services, it's unclear how many will jump at this new feature.

The original card brand programs—the Visa Account Updater (VAU) and MasterCard's Automatic Billing Updater (ABU)—were set up so that when an expiration date changed or a card number was replaced, the retailer could be automatically notified so that the customer—especially those on recurring billings—didn't have to be bothered or disrupted.

Todd Ablowitz, president of the Double Diamond Group and a payment consultant (who has no ties to Cybersource—at least none that we could find), said he thinks the move is logical and has strong potential.

"My favorite type of product release is the 'a-ha' product release, like this one. All the ingredients have been here for years. Consumers hate getting that nasty-gram from a recurrent biller saying that their card—which was probably cancelled due to fraud, a lost card or a data breach—was declined," Ablowitz said. "The card brands rolled out updater services years ago, allowing retailers to avoid that awful customer experience. The only problem is that it appeared no one was using them. Now there's a service that not only includes the account update service and automates it, but it's integrated into their tokenization process. That means the retailer never needs to see the differences in their card info. To me, that's powerful."

What the vendor is stressing is the tokenization integration. Cybersource is arguing that other services would likely force retailers to detokenize (is that a word?) their tokens before they could be updated, which would briefly create a security problem because the full card data would again be in the clear.

Of course, this approach only works if the customer is already paying for Cybersource tokens. Also, even Cybersource officials are not suggesting that this is rocket science, so it's likely that others will follow if this program gets any traction.