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UnionPay extends lead over Visa and MasterCard

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UnionPay extends lead over Visa and MasterCard

London, 20th August 2013

The number of payment cards worldwide increased by 12% in 2012 to reach a landmark 10billion, according to a new report from specialist research and consulting firm RBR, in a new study entitled "Global Payment Cards Data and Forecasts 2012-2018". The report also shows that UnionPay has continued to extend its lead over other card schemes as a result of continued rapid expansion of the Chinese card base.

Strong growth in developing markets will drive global market to 13.6 billion cards by 2018

10 billion cards in circulation worldwide corresponds to an average of 2.3 cards per adult, but this varies from fewer than two in the Middle East and Africa (MEA) and central and eastern Europe (CEE) to six in North America. As the banked population grows in developing markets card numbers will increase rapidly. The new research forecasts that by 2018 there will be 13.6billion cards in circulation worldwide.

Number of Payment Cards Worldwide, by Type of Card (billions)

Source: Global Payment Cards Data and Forecasts 2012-2018 (RBR)

UnionPay continues to benefit from the rapidly expanding Chinese banking market

With a share of 34% of the global card base, the new research indicates that UnionPay extended its lead over the other card schemes in 2012 as a result of continuing impressive growth in card numbers in China. UnionPay’s volume and value of payments remains considerably lower than those of Visa and MasterCard, however, owing to low card usage in China, where more than 99% of UnionPay cards are found.

Visa and MasterCard are issued in a much larger number of countries than UnionPay, but in both Asia-Pacific and MEA, Visa and MasterCard brands together account for less than half of cards. In Asia-Pacific this is because of the strength of UnionPay and, to a lesser extent, domestic, private label and JCB cards, while in MEA this is mainly a result of the significant presence of domestic schemes.

There are many countries, not just in MEA, where domestic schemes are demonstrating impressive growth. These include ELO in Brazil, which is targeted at low‑income customers and people claiming benefits, and CMI in Morocco, which is aimed at customers who rarely travel outside the country. In India, RuPay’s appeal is partly the result of lower processing fees than the international schemes (a common feature of domestic schemes) making it more attractive to banks.

Share of Payment Cards Worldwide, by Scheme, 2012

Source: Global Payment Cards Data and Forecasts 2012-2018 (RBR)

Rising acceptance and consumer education stimulate usage

182 billion card payments were made worldwide in 2012, up 10% compared to 2011. Growth in the number of payments is forecast to be faster than that in the card base over the next six years, partly boosted by contactless cards in some markets. Consumers are becoming more accustomed to using cards at POS, and more comfortable making purchases for smaller amounts – these factors together with improved levels of merchant acceptance are combining to drive usage.

It is notable that North America and western Europe account for 66% of the volume of card payments worldwide, compared to 26% of cards in issue. These two regions also have the highest ratios of card terminals to adults. As acceptance improves and customers are increasingly educated as to the benefits of card usage, the other regions are expected to gradually close this gap.

Challenges lie ahead in the form of new regulations

Despite the presence of a number of strong drivers of payment card growth, regulations threaten to restrict development. The Durbin Amendment in the USA, which limits debit card interchange fees, has impacted the US debit card sector. Similarly, the European Commission’s proposal to cap interchange fees could hamper growth in a significant chunk of the global cards market as this may lead to fees being passed on to consumers and to a reduction in rewards programmes. This may in turn trigger a decrease in cardholding and card usage.

There are certainly challenges ahead for the cards industry – its success depends on its ability to exploit the opportunities for growth while adapting to the changing regulations.

For more information on Global Payment Cards Data and Forecasts 2012-2018, please visit

Notes to editors

RBR is a strategic research and consulting firm with three decades of experience in retail banking, banking automation and payment systems. It assists its clients by providing independent advice and intelligence through published reports, consulting and newsletters. RBR is recognised as the leading provider of premium research reports on ATMs and payment cards. RBR also publishes Banking Automation Bulletin, a monthly research newsletter.

For more information about this research please contact Chris Herbert on +44 20 8831 7305 or

The information and data within this press release are the copyright of RBR, and may only be quoted with appropriate attribution to RBR. The information is provided free of charge and may not be resold to third parties.

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