August 12, 2011

London-based Retail Banking Research (RBR) recently announced the results of its latest global payment cards research, and although it includes many important findings, one result stood out: China UnionPay has surpassed Visa to become the world's largest card scheme.

UnionPay's brand is now appearing on 29.2 percent of cards in the world, while Visa's brand is appearing on 28.6 of cards, according to RBR. Visa executives may find consolation in the fact that the majority of the UnionPay cards -- about 99 percent, according to RBR -- are found in China. Nevertheless, this finding emphasizes rapid growth in the Chinese cards market, says Chris Herbert, the RBR associate who led the study.

Herbert also notes, however, that China UnionPay may lose its monopoly in its home market over the next few years as a result of the United State's formal appeal to the World Trade Organization regarding access to the cards market in China. "If this happens, the other schemes will most likely enter into an intense competition for a share of the Chinese card market," he says. "Meanwhile, they will also be forced to face UnionPay outside of China as it steps up its international expansion."

UnionPay is already on its way to strengthening its stance in the marketplace by forging partnerships that will help boost usage outside of China. Most recently, the company announced an agreement with Secaucus, N.J.-based NYCE Payments Network to allow cardholders of both companies reciprocal access to ATMs in both networks.

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