Girocard explained

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  1. Introduction
  2. What is a girocard?
  3. What is the difference between a debit card and a girocard?
  4. What are the benefits of a girocard?
  5. How can businesses accept girocard payments in their shop?
  6. How can customers use the girocard to make payments online?

The girocard is the most common payment card in Germany. In this article, you will learn why the girocard is so popular, how the girocard works and what benefits it offers businesses and customers. In addition, we also explain the differences between the girocard and other debit cards.

What's in this article?

  • What is a girocard?
  • What is the difference between a debit card and a girocard?
  • What are the benefits of a girocard?
  • How can businesses accept girocard payments in their shop?
  • How can customers use the girocard to make payments online?

What is a girocard?

A girocard, also referred to as a bank card or "Girokarte" in German, is issued by German banks and savings banks. With more than 100 million girocards in circulation, it is the most popular type of card in Germany. Until 2009, the girocard was known as the "EC card" and is often still called this in everyday speech. The girocard is the debit card used in the German banking industry, which means it is only found in Germany.

The girocard enables customers to pay for transactions without using cash. If the girocard contains a symbol with four waves in addition to the chip on the card, then customers can also use the card to make contactless payments. If the girocard is co-branded by one of the credit card companies – either Visa (V-Pay) or Mastercard (Maestro) – then it can also be used to make cashless payments and cash withdrawals abroad. However, the Maestro function was discontinued in July 2023. Since then, no new cards that have been issued display the Maestro symbol. In general, a girocard needs to be renewed every four years. The bank automatically sends customers a new card when the expiry date is approaching.

Payments can only be made by girocard if sufficient funds are available in the associated current account. If a customer tries to make a payment by girocard but the amount cannot be debited, they may be subject to a sanction if wilful intent – when a customer is aware that they have insufficient funds while making the payment – can be proven.

Transactions are secured using the EMV technology standard, which means that instead of containing a magnetic strip, cards have an EMV chip which guarantees every transaction made with the girocard. All data are transferred in an encrypted format, reducing the risk of identity theft or other types of fraudulent activity.

What is the difference between a debit card and a girocard?

Girocards and debit cards are both linked to a current account. Unlike with a credit card, funds are deducted immediately at the time of purchase. The girocard was designed primarily for use in physical shops and is not particularly suitable for online shopping. Online purchases, as well as cash withdrawals and contactless payments abroad, are easier to carry out with a debit card than with the girocard. These are only possible with a girocard if it is co-branded with Maestro or Visa.

At the point of sale (POS), it is common for smaller businesses to only accept the girocard, as merchants are charged higher fees for processing other types of debit cards – albeit not as high as those charged for credit cards.

What are the benefits of a girocard?

The high acceptance of the girocard offers businesses many advantages, with 47% of customers preferring to pay by girocard. The ability to make cashless payments not only improves customer satisfaction, but can also improve your sales. Customers tend to spend more when using cashless payment methods, and also carry just one form of payment. As a result, the girocard lends itself to spontaneous purchases. In addition, businesses don't have to receive and issue cash at the point of sale.

The girocard also offers a high level of security. It uses advanced security technology, making it harder for fraudulent actors to gain unauthorised access to financial data.

With the girocard, card payments in shops take less time than cash payments, improving waiting times for customers. They also offer more visibility into spending. With digital transactions, each payment is recorded, giving customers and businesses a clearer overview of spending habits.

How can businesses accept girocard payments in their shop?

To accept girocard payments at your business, you need a corresponding card reader, also referred to as a payment terminal, and a contract with an acquirer that will enable you to process payments. To make a payment via a POS, the card or EMV chip is simply scanned or inserted into a card reader. Following the electronic transmission of payment data, payments exceeding €50 must be authorised by entering the PIN or providing a signature, and this can sometimes be the case for smaller amounts as well. Unlike cards with a magnetic strip, all the data required for authorising girocard payments is transmitted in an encrypted format.

How can customers use the girocard to make payments online?

Girocards can be used in a few ways to make online payments. One option is to use payment services or apps, such as PayPal or Klarna, that accept the girocard. With this option, the payment is processed via the relevant customer account, enabling the girocard to be used. Another option is known as giropay. This is an online transfer where the customer pays directly from their current account. A giropay button on your business's website will direct customers to their bank's website. From there, they can initiate the transfer.

If the girocard also has a CVV code – the three-digit security code on the back of the card – in addition to the co-badge, purchases can also be made without a service provider or app. If this is the case, customers can enter their card number, expiry date and CVV code on the payments page. The transaction must then be verified using a 3D Secure process – an additional identification stage which adds another layer of security – to verify the transaction.

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