Visa and MasterCard brands collectively account for 86% of all European payment cards. Visa holds the largest share in Europe as a whole and in western Europe, while MasterCard has a larger share in central and eastern Europe (CEE).
Migration to Visa and MasterCard will continue despite interchange regulation
Visa Electron and Maestro are gradually being migrated to Visa and MasterCard – this can be expected
to continue over the next few years, as the latter increasingly become issued as debit cards with current accounts.
As a result of the EC regulation on interchange fees, differences in interchange fees, which may have helped drive this migration in the past, will no longer be such a significant issue; however, other factors such as a levelling-out of annual fees across different card products will now take on greater importance.
Wider acceptance of Visa and MasterCard, compared to Visa Electron and Maestro, also makes these brands more appealing to cardholders, and in some markets a perceived association with payments rather than cash withdrawals will increase issuance of these schemes.
Visa overtakes Visa Electron in CEE
The number of Visa Electron cards was surpassed by the number of Visa cards in CEE in 2014 and Visa Electron’s share also fell in western Europe, largely as a result of issuers migrating their Visa Electron cards to Visa. This was particularly noticeable in Russia and Denmark – in the latter, no Visa Electron cards remained by the end of 2014 as they had all been converted to Visa debit products.
At the end of 2014, Visa was the largest scheme in Europe, with 28% of total cards. Visa is stronger in western Europe than in CEE and is particularly strong in Ireland, the UK and Norway – in Ireland and the UK there has been significant migration from other brands (from Maestro in Ireland and Visa Electron in the UK).
V PAY, a chip-only product which is only issued in the Visa Europe region, remains relatively rare. It is only issued in six western European markets – Germany and Italy account for 96% of V PAY cards in circulation in Europe – and Bulgaria is the only CEE country in which they are present. However, in the majority of markets where such cards have been issued, they are seeing significant growth, partly as a result of dual-badging with domestic schemes.
MasterCard and Visa brands have virtually the same share
There is also a migration from Maestro to MasterCard. Examples of markets where this is particularly significant are Greece and Poland. In Greece this is largely because of contactless functionality, which was initially introduced on MasterCard cards but not Maestro. In Poland MasterCard is more closely associated with POS transactions than Maestro which tends to be used for cash withdrawals, and the former is becoming more popular as acceptance expands.
MasterCard brands collectively account for almost the same share of the European total as Visa brands, but the MasterCard brand itself has a significantly smaller share than the Visa brand itself. MasterCard is the largest scheme in CEE, having overtaken Visa Electron in 2014. Russia and Ukraine in particular saw strong growth in the number of MasterCard cards in issue in 2014.
Domestic and private label cards being converted to international schemes
Visa and MasterCard brands account for the vast majority of cards in issue but there are a number of other schemes in circulation. Domestic schemes account for 5% of the European total and are present in a number of markets in both regions, although many are now being replaced or dual-badged with international schemes.
They are strongest in Russia and Switzerland, where they account for 21% and 16% of all cards respectively. Collectively, private label schemes make up 7% of the total, but as with domestic schemes, private label cards are increasingly being converted to international brands. They are particularly common, but rarely used, in France.
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