Despite the prevalence of credit cards and payment services like Venmo and Apple Pay, when things go wrong, cash is still king.
Europe and the UK got a really good reminder of that after a network crash on 1 June prevented millions of Visa credit and debit card holders from making any transactions.
Things got even worse when some MasterCard and American Express cards started getting declined after transactions were rerouted through Visa’s IT network.
All told, this issue created a pretty big headache for a lot of Europeans who found that when trying to buy tickets for a train or bus ride home after work, the cards in the wallets had suddenly reverted to being useless pieces of plastic.
In addition to many gas and railway stations, other major outlets including Mark’s and Spencer’s and Sainsbury’s were unable to accept payments from Visa cards, with The Guardian reporting that after learning about the issue, “some customers were simply dumping their shopping at the tills”.
Apparently people with Visa debit cards were still able to withdraw cash from ATMs.
Visa UK first tweeted out a statement regarding “service disruptions” shortly before 6pm London time, after problems first started around 2:30pm. This was later followed up by an announcement from UK Finance, the trade association that represents payment firms in Britain:
Visa is currently experiencing a service disruption which is preventing some Visa transactions in Europe from being processed. It is investigating the cause and acting as quickly as possible to resolve the situation. Visa is working with banks, building societies, merchant acquirers and card providers to return to a normal service and will provide regular updates.
Meanwhile, MPs are demanding answers from Visa, who were down for half a day after a “hardware failure”.
“A third of all spending in the UK is processed by Visa. It’s deeply worrying, therefore, that such a vital part of the country’s payment infrastructure can fail so catastrophically,” Nicky Morgan, the chairwoman of the Treasury select committee, said.
“The consequences were sudden and severe. Many consumers and businesses were left stranded on Friday, unable to make or accept payments, with chaos reported in shops.”
A committee has been formed, and is seeking answers on a number of issues, including whether or not cardholders or shopkeepers will be entitled to compensation, and what steps Visa will take to prevent a similar system failure in the future.