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Cards that stand out from the pack

As people increasingly become digital-first, the credit or debit card may become one of the few physical touchpoints a bank has with its customers.

Oct 14, 2021 / Consumer Banking
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It wasn’t very long ago that it was true to say that once you had seen one credit or debit card, you’d seen them all.

The color might vary, but everything else would be formulaic — uninspiring artwork, the cardholder name and account number embossed on the front of the card, the financial institution and payment network brand logos on the front, and a signature strip on the flip side of the card. All very homogenous, and all too easy to accidentally use the wrong card for the wrong transaction.

Today, there are a multitude of card design choices available and increased scope for creativity due to changes including:

  • Visa and MasterCard updates now allowing for more flexibility in card design
  • Materials and technology for card manufacturing advancing by leaps and bounds
  • New technology facilitating card personalization.

A greater desire for the credit or debit card to be a physical manifestation of a financial institution’s brand, combined with consumer demand for the organizations they do business with to reflect their values, are driving card design rapidly away from the staid and boring.

Inclusive, eye-catching designs

As people increasingly become digital-first, mobile-savvy, on-the-go consumers, the credit or debit card may well be one of the few physical touchpoints a bank or credit union has with its customers or members.  With many other transactions now completed either online or via the financial institution’s mobile app, payment cards can be transformed into powerful brand vehicles that can secure top-of-wallet positioning and increase activation.

For example, account information can be positioned on the back of the card and hidden from onlookers, giving cardholders added confidence in their card transactions. A vertical layout differentiates a card and keeps a financial institution’s brand visible when EMV chips are inserted at the point of sale. The flip side remains horizontal to align with the signature panel and magnetic stripe.

Banking, of course, needs to be accessible to visually-impaired cardholders, so braille can be added to the card, including the full primary account number, expiration date and security code.

Financial institutions can also offer the prestige and status that comes with laser-engraved metal payment cards to appeal to affluent consumers, millennials and other demographics. Alternatively, cards can be personalized with treasured photographs of family members, vacations or almost anything important to the cardholder. The objective is strengthening cardholder relations, increasing card usage and distinguishing the financial institution’s brand from the competition.


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Today’s consumer makes purchasing decisions based upon how companies operate and interact with the local and global community. According to a 2020 Aite report, all age groups are concerned about the environment and believe that companies should help improve it. Mastercard says six billion payment cards are produced each year, typically from polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Those cards are discarded every three to four years, contributing to landfill waste around the world. Enter eco-friendly credit and debit cards.

Industrial plastic waste and scrap can be recovered and recycled to make payment cards, thereby reducing the proliferation of plastic in landfills and adverse effects to the environment. Another option is polylactic acid (PLA), derived from renewable resources such as corn starch, that can replace 80% of the petroleum-based PVC in a card. PLA requires less energy to produce than PVC, resulting in lower carbon footprints and greenhouse gas emissions. It’s also biodegradable, recyclable and can be incinerated without generating toxic gases.

Plastic waste can be recovered from land areas where it otherwise would likely enter the ocean. The recovered material is turned into high-density polyethylene and used to construct the card core. This option, which reduces single-use plastic, can appeal to cardholders who are cognizant of marine life.

Finally, card packages can now come from paper harvested from sustainably grown trees – this includes eco-friendly card carriers, inserts and envelopes. Many consumers are opting for sustainable products across multiple market segments and financial institutions are by no means exempt.

More than ever, consumers seek tailored experiences that personify their tastes and preferences. As competition for consumer attention intensifies, card personalization can help increase transaction revenue, allow for a connection with cardholders and boost brand loyalty.

Jamie Topolski is director of payment card products at Fiserv.