The US is the last major market in the world using the signature system, which is part of the reason why a disproportionate amount of credit card fraud happens here. The change is especially relevant given the massive fraud perpetrated against customers of Target in the fall. During a Congressional hearing last week, Target CFO John Mulligan said the company is accelerating the $100 million effort to switch to the so-called "chip and pin" system.
The change won't happen all at once. Banks must issue cards with microprocessors and merchants need the right equipment to process the so-called "chip and PIN transactions," which is likely to happen gradually. But Visa, American Express, and MasterCard have announced that banks and merchants that have not adopted the technology for face-to-face transactions by October 2015 will be liable for fraudulent purchases. That's a strong incentive to get up to date. The new system will also prepare merchants and banks to transition to contactless payments in the near future.