Three of Estonia's major high street banks are to completely phase out the use of pass code cards when using their services online, from early February.
The pass code cards, which have been in use for practically as long as online banking has been provided by banks in Estonia, are physical plastic cards printed with around 30, 6-digit numbers (see picture). On logging in, a user must provide one of the 30 numbers as directed by the bank's website.
The system has largely already been superseded by other log in methods including the Smart ID app, the Estonian ID card, and Mobile ID. Whilst customers have been encouraged by many banks to make the switch via info campaigns, the banks are effectively to make the decision for them from early February, forcing customers to choose an alternative if they wish to access services online.
Three banks are to make the move as February begins: SEB, Swedbank and the Coop Bank.
Swedbank is phasing out its use of the cards on 1 February.
Ede Raagmets, head of customer services at Swedbank, said approximately 15,000 bank customers have started using an alternative means of authentication in the last month, while some 150,000 people have made the jump to a new means of log in over the preceding year.
Nevertheless, there is still a large residual proportion of users who continue to use pass code cards, mostly through habit.
"The number of password card users continues to be substantial. A total of 28,000 customers have regularly used only password cards when accessing the online bank in the last three months," Ms Raagmets told BNS.
"At the same time, after starting to use a new means of authentication, many people have understood that it is actually simpler and more convenient than a password card. There are several good alternatives to code cards and we believe that all customers will find a solution suitable for them," she continued, adding that around 60% of customers use Smart-ID and about 30% use their ID Card.
SEB is following suit by phasing out pass code cards soon after Swedbank, on 4 February, though many customers have already had the card phased out on their accounts.
"At present, slightly under 4% of our customers use pass code cards. Over the past year, this percentage has decreased drastically," Heigo Tark, head of SEB's authentication and security in the Baltics, told BNS. This compares with around a 50% user rate when the bank started its information campaign on alternative log in methods in 2017, the bank says.
A higher proportion of SEB's customers use their ID Card (39%) and Mobile ID (20%) than at Swedbank; conversely the Smart ID usage with SEB is lower than Swedbank (24%). A similar proportion of SEB customers use PIN Calculators to log in, as at Swedbank (around the 10% mark or slightly higher).
"As SEB started informing customers of the closing of the pass code cards in early 2017, we have not had any problems regarding that issue so far,'' Mr Tark continued.
''People understand why the change is necessary and during the process, we are sensing very strong support from the media in terms of raising awareness and this aids the process tremendously," he continued.
The smaller Coop Pank is also phasing out pass code cards, on 1 February, and has reported similar trends.
The bank says the number of pass code card users has halved over the last 12 months, with about 3,000 active users at present. The most popular alternatives, soon to be only options, are again, the ID Card and Smart ID.
"We are there to fully help our customers to ensure that transitioning to new means of authentication takes place without any hitches,' said Helena Kokk, head of e-channels at Coop Pank.
''So far, our customers have had a very understanding attitude towards the news regarding the abolition of the password cards," she said.
The Smart ID app can be downloaded to a mobile phone and is not confined to a particular bank. The Estonian ID Card login in requires a card reader and the PIN numbers provided when the card was issued. Mobile ID uses a sim card issued by a mobile phone provider. Whether banks continue to use PIN calculators probably depends on the individual bank.
Help with switching to a new log in method can be sought at most branches of the aforementioned banks, where customer service can generally be provided in English.
Of the remaining high street banks, Luminor and LHV never introduced a password card system, most likely since they are relatively new, pass code cards would already have been obsolete when they started trading.
Editor: Andrew Whyte