Engineering Blog

Mother Nature's Impact on Credit Card Activity

Credit Card ImprinterIt wasn’t so long ago that merchants were using so-called “knuckle busters” to accept credit cards – simple, manually operated machines which used carbon paper to make an imprint of your credit cards, that were later submitted to your processor for funding. These were obviously solutions used during a simpler time. Today, credit card imprinters are typically only used as a final failsafe option (if at all) – a last resort for whenever a merchant loses one or more of their electricity, ISP, or phone service.

Today’s credit card terminals are a lot sexier. Over the past 5 years, we’ve rotated payment terminal 180 degrees – from being cashier-facing devices to being customer-facing devices. Today’s terminals are networked devices, supporting TCP/IP and Power Over Ethernet. They’re typically running an embedded Linux operating system, complete with an ARM processor, GPU, full graphics stacks, capable of displaying advertisements and doing customer input right at the point of interaction (POI). Many of the next generation of terminals are running Android under the covers, which will offer even more exciting possibilities for merchants and ISVs to deliver custom-tailored capabilities/experiences right to the POI.
This all works great, except for when it doesn’t. We take it for granted, but there’s a huge amount of sophistication and logistics that go into processing a credit card transaction these days, and even more is needed to process a mobile wallet transaction.
Extreme weather and natural disasters can wreak havoc on the infrastructure that we so much take for granted each day. This year, the Caribbean and Gulf were hit particularly hard by hurricanes. Cayan’s merchant and transaction data offers some insight into how deeply these catastrophic events have impacted Florida, Houston, the US Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico, and how quickly and to what extent they’ve bounced back. Without at all downplaying the significant loss of life and property that Texas and Florida have experienced and without downplaying the investments we’ll need to make before life is back to normal there, Cayan’s transactional data offers a small sliver of how deeply affected our fellow citizens in the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico have been by these storms, how huge of an uphill climb they have in front of them, and how much they need our help.


Houston was hit first this hurricane season. Hurricane Harvey made landfall in late August, and dropped 4-6 feet of rain on parts of Texas and Louisiana. You can see how deeply this cuts into economic activity in the region, but credit card purchases largely return to normal within about 2 weeks.
Houston Hurricane Purchase Chart


Florida – especially the Gulf Coast - was hit by Hurricane Irma in September. Here, we see a picture similar to Houston, where the region’s sales largely rebounds within about 2 weeks.
Florida Hurricane Purchase Chart

US Virgin Islands 

The US Virgin Islands were struck by two Category 5 hurricanes this year - Irma and Maria – within a span of about 2 weeks. You can see signs of a brief partial recovery about 2 weeks after Irma, and the 1-2 punch Maria delivers so soon afterwards. The New York Times wrote that “Hurricane Maria finished what Irma started”, regarding those storms’ impact on the island. Based on Cayan’s data, the island’s credit card activity is presently about 10% of what it was before Irma hit.
Virgin Islands Hurricane Purchase Chart

Puerto Rico 

Our data shows how Puerto Rico was also affected by Hurricane Irma before being devastated by Hurricane Maria. Puerto Rico bounces back about 2 weeks after Irma, but even now - 4+ weeks after Maria hit the island - credit card activity is only maybe 20-25% of what it was before the hurricane hit.
Puerto Rico Hurricane Purchase Chart

How Can I Help?

Cayan and its employees have been proud to donate to hurricane relief charities, and thanks everyone who has helped provide relief to hurricane victims. The data above show how dearly our help is still needed. For those wondering how they can help, please consider donating to the One America Appeal. This charity was launched by all five living former American presidents, and contributes 100% of its donations to hurricane relief. We’re all in this together.