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Wells Fargo rolls out mobile on/off switch for debit cards

Convenience and security are driving consumer interest in a digital on/off feature for misplaced debit cards. Wells Fargo is the latest to introduce the feature.

From home to the store and back, Linda Leo mentally retraced her steps in search of her misplaced debit card, but it was nowhere to be found. Before frantically rushing to call the bank and cancel her card, however, she realized she could use a better option — Wells Fargo’s digital “on/off” switch.

“I remembered the bank has this feature now and I just went online and turned off my debit card switch,” said Leo, a Wells Fargo customer who also works as a program manager for the company. “And I was lucky. I found my card the next day — under the seat of my car. So I just went back online and turned my card back on. It was easy.”

Research shows millions of people each year find out their debit cards are lost, misplaced, or stolen, according to Javelin Strategy & Research. With billions of dollars at risk from identity theft and other fraud, many feel a rush of panic when they first discover their cards missing.

Having access to a digital on/off capability helps ease those fears, industry experts said. Wells Fargo recently became one of the latest banks to introduce the feature for its debit card customers through online and mobile banking. (A similar feature is under development for consumer credit card customers, with a rollout tentatively scheduled for next year.)

“Wells Fargo’s latest innovative security feature will help better protect consumers at the convenience of their computer or mobile device,” said Adam Rice, communications director for the Financial Services Roundtable, an industry advocacy and research group. “The financial industry continues to lead the way, using technology to enhance security while providing a better, more robust customer experience.”

The feature puts customers in control, gives them the ability to block anyone from using their misplaced card, and allows them to unblock it after they find the card, said Kathy Yee, head of product management and development for Wells Fargo’s debit/prepaid card business.

Customers have shown a strong interest in the new online/mobile feature, Yee said, and it has quickly become more popular than calling a phone banker to access the capability, which has been available since 2015. After the online/mobile feature was introduced in late March, more than 100,000 customers navigated to the page to check it out in the first 14 days.

“It amazes me to see this volume — and we haven’t even done any marketing of it yet,” she said. “It is impressive how many people are just seeing the service is there, getting on their phone, and using it, without hesitating. They immediately recognize the convenience factor.”

Gerri Detweiler, a personal finance expert and author, said the digital on/off feature’s convenience and security advantages are driving consumer demand.

“Everyone knows it can be a real hassle to close accounts, change account numbers, and reset things like auto-bill payments,” she said. “I’ve heard from many consumers this is definitely a feature they want and find helpful in today’s environment when everyone is so busy multitasking. It is a real plus to be able to have more control, especially where this is so much potential for fraud.”

“It certainly saved me a lot of inconvenience,” said Leo, the Wells Fargo program manager. “It was such a time saver and gave me a lot of peace of mind.”

Wells Fargo has now taken the next step for this technology, allowing customers to activate their new debit cards via online or mobile, Yee said. That technology was first piloted with a select group of Wells Fargo team members, and was just introduced to customers earlier this week, she said.

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