Visa ‘Ring’ the Payment Changes at the Rio Olympics

Brazilian flag

As a forward-thinking payment service provider we love keeping a close eye on the FinTech space to see what’s around the corner. In recent years, contactless technologies – including radio-frequency identification (RFID) and near-field communication (NFC) – have revolutionised point-of-sale payments, and it seems safe to assume that we haven’t seen the end of innovation in this particular area. In fact, one such piece of tech has been on display at this year’s Olympic Games in Rio.

Visa is a long-time sponsor of the Olympics, having been the exclusive payment services sponsor – and the only card accepted at the Games – since 1986. For the 2016 Summer Olympics, Visa has created a payment infrastructure that includes NFC-enabled point-of-sale terminals at around 4,000 key venues, souvenir shops and concession stands. It’s a fairly impressive achievement, but that’s not the innovation that’s making people sit up and take notice.

Wearable Payment Tech

The financial services giant has provided Team Visa – a sponsored group of 45 Olympic athletes from around the world – with contactless Visa payment rings to use throughout the Games. The symbolism is smart, creating an obvious connection to the five interlinked rings of the official Olympic symbol, but it’s the innovative incorporation of existing NFC technology into an unobtrusive wearable that really makes the concept stand out.

The design utilises a secure microchip and an NFC antenna embedded into a ceramic ring. Similar to other NFC applications, the ring allows the wearer to pay for goods or services by simply waving or tapping the ring on the corresponding payment terminal at the point of sale. And there’s no need for a battery or integrated power source; the tiny bit of power needed to enable the transaction is delivered to the passive ring by the payment terminal.

Payments Without Pockets

Visa developed the payment ring concept after talking with Olympic athletes about their needs. The hectic demands of an Olympian at the Games – including constant changes of clothes – can make it difficult to keep track of wallets and other wearables. The ring design appeared to offer the perfect solution: an inconspicuous and convenient – as well as water-resistant – wearable that can easily be incorporated into a busy routine.

It remains to be seen whether the payment ring will turn out to be a diverting Olympic gimmick, or the shape of future payment technology. However, given the adoption of smartphone payments and m-commerce – and more recently, payment apps for smartwatches and other wearables – we would be very surprised if this is the last we see of the payment ring concept. In fact, several other NFC payment rings and ‘smart jewellery’ devices have already entered the market.

Wearable tech will never beat the convenience and peace of mind of direct debit solutions for making regular payments, but for small, ad hoc payments it might well take the top step of the podium. If you’d like to discuss direct debit and payment gateway solutions for your business, please get in touch with our expert consultants today.