So far, Visa Inc. has dominated the headlines regarding the U.S. conversion to contactless payment cards. Mastercard Inc., however, will soon be getting into the act.
“In the U.S., contactless momentum continues to grow on both issuing and acceptance sides,” Mastercard president and chief executive Ajay Banga said Thursday. “We have received commitments from issuers representing approximately two-thirds of our total U.S. consumer volume to issue contactless cards within the next two years.”
Those issuers include Citibank, Capital One, KeyBank, Santander and HSBC, Banga said on a conference call Thursday to review the company’s fourth-quarter 2018 results. “We’re also working with leading processors like FIS [Fidelity National Information Services Inc.] to bring contactless to smaller [bank] issuers and to credit unions,” Banga said.
Exactly how many cards will be involved was not immediately clear. In the United States, Mastercard has approximately 446 million cards, of which 231 million are credit cards and 216 million are debit cards, according to its fourth-quarter operations report. A Mastercard spokesperson declined to give further details.
Visa has said it expects 100 million of its branded U.S. cards to be contactless-enabled by year’s end, led by the conversion at its largest issuer, JPMorgan Chase and Co. Other big Visa issuers now committed to contactless include Wells Fargo & Co. and Bank of America Corp. And American Express Co. has been quietly adding contactless capability to millions of cards.
After long being shunned by issuers, contactless cards are gaining favor among banks and credit unions because of their fast transaction times, decreasing costs for the plastic, and more acceptance locations. The new point-of-sale terminals merchants have installed over the past three years to accept EMV chip payment cards usually come with the ability to process contactless payments via near-field communication technology, though many merchants still haven’t activated the NFC feature.
“In total today over half of U.S. card-present transactions are happening at contactless-enabled merchant locations,” Banga said, noting that such big merchants as Target and CVS recently have said they’ll be accepting contactless payments.
Payments experts expect the coming flood of contactless cards to consist almost entirely of so-called dual-interface cards. Such cards support both contact EMV transactions in which the chip card is inserted into the terminal, as well as contactless payments in which the NFC-enabled chip card is passed near or tapped on the device.
Meanwhile, Mastercard reported U.S. purchase volume of $408 billion in the fourth quarter, an 11.4% increase from $366 billion a year earlier. Credit purchase volume totaled $219 billion, up 10.4%, while debit volume jumped 12.7% to $189 billion.
The No. 2 payment network switched 20.1 billion transactions, up 13.4% from 17.7 billion in 2017’s last quarter.
Mastercard reported net income of $899 million, a nearly four-fold increase from $227 million a year earlier in part because of much lower corporate tax rates in 2018. Adjusted net income that excludes certain one-time and other items rose 36% on a currency-neutral basis to $1.61 billion. Currency-neutral net revenues grew 17% to $3.81 billion from $3.31 billion in 2017’s fourth quarter.