Stratos, the single smart card to unify credit cards


An Ann Arbor tech start-up is poised to become the largest competitor in the single-card payment field, banking on a market for a device that will sync every card in a customer’s wallet into one card. Stratos is a connected payment card that features dual-magnetic stripes for more accurate account and identity information and sensors that let you pull up information by knocking the card on your phone.

Stratos smart card

Apple Pay may have made it easier to shop without reaching for your wallet, but the new Bluetooth card may eliminate the wallet entirely.

Keeping tight security in mind, this card does not feature numbers like a typical credit card, the Stratos card is designed to keep personal data safe. “The idea here is to make your wallet more secure than it’s ever been,” said co-founder and CEO Thiago Olson.

The membership model is new to the connected cards market, as other devices such as Coin and Plastic require just one-time payments of $100 and $155, respectively. But Stratos’ subscription model includes an upgrade to a new device every year, which is good news since the battery that powers the card lasts just two years.

Receiving a new card each year also ensures Strato’s customers have the most up-to-date technology- such as getting a replacement card with chip-and-pin technology. Chip-and-pin cards are expected to be the de facto mode of transaction in the near future, as they are more secure than mag swipe transactions.

 All of your current credit card information is stored in a corresponding mobile app and transmitted to your Stratos Card when you go to pay. When you receive the card in the mail, it comes with a card reader that plugs into a phone’s headphone jack. Swiping a traditional credit card, debit card or gift card through the reader will load that card’s information in the app.

There is no limit to the number of cards that can be saved to the app, but the Stratos Card holds only three cards for quick access. Three touch-sensors on the front of the card correspond to each quick access card, allowing one to choose which he wants to use with a few taps. When one want to quickly pick a different card, you can knock the Stratos against any surface twice and it will pull up the saved list of options for the user to pick. The card has in-built sensors to detect the knocks.

Stratos also offers a more accurate, and therefore more widely accepted, system than existing products. Using a dual-magstripe, the Stratos card is able to store and transmit two tracks of information instead of one like in rival cards Coin, Plastc and LoopPay. In traditional credit cards, the magnetic stripes store 3 tracks of information — track 1 stores identity information such as cardholder’s name, track 2 stores account data, while track 3 is currently redundant.

Security measures:
Stratos makes use of tokenization to issue a one-time key (or token) to mask your credit card prior to each transaction; even if the transmission is hacked, all the would-be thieves would see is a useless string that doesn’t reveal your account information. Both Apple Pay and the newly announce Android Pay use a similar approach.

Through the Stratos app, a lockdown feature lets you set the amount of time your card can be separated from your phone before all the data gets wiped off it. This means that if you are out of Bluetooth range from your card for a minute (if that’s the duration you set), the card will be wiped of your credit card data.

The design of the card looks like a traditional credit card, but it is as thin and light as a business card. It also has a chic and clean design. Printed on the front is the logo, owner’s name and number of the Stratos Card (not your actual credit card number). The three touch-sensors are placed near the right edge. On the back, magnetic strips run across the top, just like a regular credit card. There is a signature strip on the back as well.

Additional uses:
Stratos is not just a card, it’s a membership service, so users pay $95 per year for access to their cloud-based system, which keeps the card up-to-date on security additions and changes. Expect a new card every year, says Olson.

It is potentially good option for those who can afford and want the convenience of consolidating their wallets into one device. But one should not forget that it is another company and another app that will have access to your personal financial information.