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Have Cards Become an Anachronism?

by Helen Sanders, Editor

Apart from, perhaps, James Bond-style briefcases full of crisp banknotes and pockets full of loose change, few payment methods are as ubiquitous as cards. No longer are cards simply something to keep in our wallets or handbags, they are now used across a vast array of corporate activities; for example, travel and entertainment (T&E) and purchasing cards (p-cards) have now been extended to cards for meetings and events, and virtual cards. Furthermore, corporate card programmes are no longer simply for the benefit of employees and their employers. With the growth of prepaid cards, companies are increasingly able to use cards as the basis of customer and distributor incentives, and the public sector for making benefits or social security payments.

However, despite the prevalence of cards, and their projected growth in the future, the pieces of plastic that clutter up our wallets (which are otherwise empty except for a long-lost car park ticket, a few foreign coins and low denomination coins that won’t go into a machine) are becoming virtually redundant in many cases. Furthermore, the diversity in the way that card programmes are used suggests that the concept of ‘cards’ is becoming an anachronism, and instead, we should simply refer more broadly to payment programmes. In this article, we talk to senior banking executives in North America, Europe and Asia, who are responsible for innovation in card programmes in their respective regions and globally.

Growth of commercial cards

Commercial cards, both T&E and purchasing cards, and new types of cards such as meetings and event cards, continue to grow in popularity amongst corporates of all sizes. Kevin Phalen, Commercial Card and Comprehensive Payables Executive, Bank of America Merrill Lynch explains,

“We have been seeing an acceleration of demand for card-based solutions over the past 12-18 months, both in traditional markets for cards, such as US and UK, and more widely across Europe and Asia. In particular, these companies are seeking to extend the automation, sophistication and convenience of their electronic payment capabilities.”