LONDON • Payment systems giant Visa recovered yesterday from a hardware issue that had left it struggling to process transactions at bars, shops and cash machines across Europe.
The blockage left some customers stuck at the tills in stores across the continent late on Friday, while others were forced to queue at automated teller machines.
"Visa has resolved a technical issue which occurred yesterday in Europe and prevented some consumers from using Visa for payments," the firm said in a statement more than 12 hours after it first reported issues.
The firm said the issue was a result of a hardware failure and "is not associated with any unauthorised access or cyberattack". Chief executive Al Kelly apologised to customers and businesses "for any inconvenience".
"Our goal is to ensure all Visa payments work reliably 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. We fell well short of this goal," he admitted.
A Visa spokesman said on Friday evening - as the problems unfolded - that it was not possible to say how many users across Europe had been affected.
However, a report last year by the UK Cards Association reported that Visa debit cards account for 97 per cent of all debit cards, meaning the disruption is likely to have had a large financial impact.
British newspaper The Daily Telegraph yesterday reported that more than £1 in every £3 in the country is spent on a Visa card, using a system designed to process up to 65,000 transactions per second.
The BBC posted a picture of a London supermarket worker standing outside holding a sign reading: "Cash only".
Visa users took to social media to complain while banks tried to explain the situation to their customers, but the disruption seemed to vary on a case-by-case basis.
The Royal Bank of Scotland's Twitter help account said cash machine withdrawals were unaffected, while Paymentsense - which provides card machines, online payment gateways and virtual terminals to some 60,000 independent businesses in Britain and Ireland - advised users to try paying via contactless transactions.
After the hardware issue was resolved, Paymentsense said customers continued to experience "intermittency" because of a backlog in transactions.
In Spain, the Guardia Civil assured customers on Twitter that: "If you cannot pay, you have not suffered any theft or hacking."
Russia was spared the chaos as it has its own National Payment Card System (NPCS) to prevent Western sanctions creating a financial crisis.
"In Russia, all card payment transactions are proceeding normally and no problems are being observed," TASS news agency quoted an NPCS spokesman as saying.
France was also exempt from the issues, according to the French Association of Bank Users. It said: "The explanation is probably related to the fact that in most European countries merchants are in direct contact with Visa when paying, while in France the payment passes through an intermediary... It's a sort of airlock."
Mr Alex Neill, Which? consumer magazine's managing director of home products and services, said: "Visa and the banks need to ensure no one is left out of pocket due to this outage... We strongly advise people to keep any evidence of extra expenses they've incurred in order to claim them back."