Visa Inc. has been talking up contactless payments lately, though its executives and spokespersons usually dole out percentages rather than hard numbers to describe what is still a minuscule market in terms of card numbers and transaction volume. But chief executive Alfred F. Kelly gave an eyebrow-raising statistic Wednesday regarding a predicted boom in contactless card issuance.
“The U.S. market is poised for significant contactless growth over the coming year,” Kelly said while discussing Visa’s financial results for the quarter ended Sept. 30 on a conference call with stock analysts. After noting how more merchants are turning on contactless card acceptance at point-of-sale terminals—about 70 of Visa’s top merchants now accept contactless cards, up by more than 20 in a year—he added: “On the issuing side, several of our largest clients will begin issuing contactless cards over the next few quarters. We expect that there will be over 100 million Visa contactless cards issued in the United States by the end of 2019.”
If so, contactless cards would represent nearly 12% of Visa’s U.S. card base of 856 million as of June 30, the latest figures available. That figure includes 521 million debit cards and 335 million credit cards.
Exact numbers regarding contactless cards currently in issue are hard to come by, but experts estimate that perhaps just 5% of debit cards have a near-field communication antenna that facilitates tap-and-go payments. At the start of this year, only about 1% of U.S. POS transactions involved a contactless card or an NFC-enabled smart-phone wallet. Still, contactless supporters believe many issuers will opt for so-called dual-interface cards that support contact EMV chip card payments as well as NFC transactions when they begin replacing their first generation of EMV cards, the vast majority of which are of the contact-only variety.
Kelly said contactless payments are booming at Costco Wholesale Corp., the big retailer that offers customers a dual-interface cobranded Visa credit card issued by Citigroup Inc. that doubles as a membership card. Costco recently turned on contactless acceptance at its 519 U.S. stores.
“Over half of in-store payments at Costco on their cobrand card are now paid with a tap after Costco enabled contactless payments just in mid-August of this year,” he said.
Besides contactless cards, Kelly said other Visa products and services, especially digital offerings such as the Visa Direct near-real-time push-payments service, are seeing strong usage increases. “Global growth continues to be over 100% this quarter,” he said of Visa Direct, adding that transactions occurred in 150 countries in fiscal 2018.
While most payments executives consider the U.S. a mature market, Americans gave a big lift to Visa in the fiscal year ended last month, for which the company reported a $10.3 billion profit, up 54% from $6.7 billion in fiscal 2017. Strong consumer spending and the federal corporate tax cut, among other factors, drove the increase in net income.
U.S. credit card payment volume rose 11% year-over-year in the fourth quarter to $498 billion, and debit payment volume jumped 12% to $436 billion. For the fiscal year, U.S. credit payments totaled $1.91 trillion and debit $1.68 trillion, up 11% and 10%, respectively.
“Clearly, the strength of the U.S. consumer in particular ended up being stronger than we expected,” Visa chief financial officer Vasant Prabhu said on the call. He noted that debit growth had been in the single digits in the quarters leading up to fiscal 2018, but in the second quarter “we jumped into the double digits and have stayed there.”
For the fourth quarter, Visa reported net operating revenues of $5.43 billion, up 12% year over year, and net income of $2.85 billion, a 33% increase. Full-year revenues increased 12% to $20.6 billion. Transactions on the VisaNet network increased 12% in the fourth quarter to 32.8 billion, and also by 12% in the full year to 124.3 billion.