[Dave Birch] The forecasts for the prepaid market have been bullish for a while. One recent survey put prepaid card spending at $64 billion in 2004, $113 billion this year and predicts $178 billion by 2010, although the rate of growth that is predicted is lower. But it’s a big business. As previously discussed, it’s steadily shifting to the big networks. Aite’s survey says that Visa/MC/etc cards will have 44% of the prepaid market by 2010 compared with only 20% in 2004. About two-thirds of their volume comes through cards issued on behalf of government agencies and corporate clients. This is in contrast with private-label cards (eg, the iTunes card I gave to my son last week) which are predominantly issued by retailers. Note that while the survey predicts the total number of prepaid cards in the U.S. will be 7 billion in 2010 (compared with 4.3 billion this year) they will still account for only 1.6% of personal consumption expenditures (PCE).

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Europe is seeing plenty of activity as well. We’ve looked at the Italian prepaid market before as it is the home of the widely-used Poste Italiane prepaid (Visa Electron) card. Now it’s going to be home of a contactless pre-paid MasterCard, as BancoPosta, the financial services arm of Poste Italiane, will launch a trial by the end of the year, offering prepaid cards to new cardholders with the PayPass application onboard. Cardholders will be able to tap to pay at a relatively small number of merchant locations in Rome and Milan during the six- to eight-month trial but it will still be interesting to see how the usage patterns develop. I’m particularly curious about is because cash accounts for 93% of transactions in Italy, the highest in Europe, so it will be a real litmus test of contactless’ ability to displace cash in retail transactions.

There have been a number of new pre-paid products entering the U.K. market as well. Barclays have just announced another re-loadable, PIN-protected travel money card that has been designed to replace paper travellers’ cheques and cash. It can be loaded with British pounds, US dollars and euros at Barclays branches, or over the telephone, using a debit or credit card. Customers can put the equivalent of between £100 and £2,500 on the card and the funds are available instantly. Balances can be checked at ATMs or over the phone. Lloyds TSB, Virgin Money and The Post Office have similar products. Lloyds TSB have also launched a money transfer card. Basically, you give the card to someone (eg, a child away at college) and tell them the PIN. Then you top it up from your bank account whenever. The card is charged £1.50 per ATM withdrawal and there’s a 3% currency conversion charge on f/x transactions.

I was thinking of getting a couple of these to try them out and report back on them in more detail, but it’s frankly too much hassle. I have to go to a branch with the usual passport and gas bill combination and fill out a load of forms, and I’m not dedicated enough to the cause to do this. Sorry.

These opinions are my own (I think) and presented solely in my capacity as an interested member of the general public [posted with ecto]


  1. Came across this blog in doing some research for my company. We are a Toronto-based villa vacation company with properties and personnel in Europe. We are looking for an easily administered (from our Toronto office) prepaid debit or credit card solution for our 25+ people on the ground in Europe (Italy, France, Spain, Croatia) to access funds on a regular basis. I would appreciate any recommendations you might have.

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