Naturally as I now live and work in Ireland I have an Irish bank account, and an Irish debit card. My nice new card is stuffed with logos. On the front it has a Laser logo, and on the back are Maestro and Cirrus logos.
Laser is the debit card system in Ireland. If you are unfamiliar with the concept of a debit card, it is a card for which you can pay for goods and services directly from your bank account, unlike a credit card which as the name suggests operates on a credit system. If you don’t have enough money in your account then your debit card transaction may be declined.
Maestro is the de-facto European standard for debit cards. Cirrus is the de-facto European/World system for ATM withdrawl cards. In the UK I happily had a card from my bank which carried both the Maestro and Cirrus logos. I could use it to withdraw cash anywhere in the world (well, anywhere I tried to) and I could pay for goods and services in many countries and over the ‘net using Maestro.
Naturally I was happy that my new Irish card carried these logos, though I was intrigued about the Laser one. It turns out that Laser is a debit card system solely for use within Ireland. It works in exactly the same way as Maestro in most senses. This is great for buying my Starbucks, but leaves me stumped when trying to buy stuff over the ‘net from the UK.
No problem I thought as my card also carries a Maestro symbol. The problem however is that it appears that Irish Maestro cards (at least from AIB and Bank of Ireland) don’t actually fully confirm to the Maestro standards. The most obvious omission is an issue number. This leaves you ok for point of sale transactions abroad where the card is physically swiped and a PIN entered, but means that the card cannot be used for ‘net or phone based (i.e. customer not present) transactions. This is a major annoyance meaning I am currently reliant on my existing UK debit or credit card for such stuff. Seen as I don’t get paid any money in the UK anymore, this is bothersome.
What makes it worse is that even some Irish services are rendered unusable due to this problem. For instance I tried to book tickets to see Shrek The Third at our local Vue cinema last week. I popped onto their web site and got through to the payment section. I happily selected Maestro (no Laser option), entered my card number, my CCV number, but wait a minute – it’s asking for an issue number. Putting the transaction through without it failed. It turns out that online payments for the Dublin Vue cinema are handled by Vue’s UK based payments system.
I’ve seen one reference online to the fact that the Irish clearing banks are not linked up to the rest of Europe in the way that other countries are, hence online funds verification can’t take place and the Maestro facilities the Irish banks can provide are subsequently restricted. I don’t know how true this is.
Time to get an Irish credit card. Good old Visa, accepted everywhere 😉