Once basic functions are totally standardized, the only means for differentiation is in the look and feel of the product. The secure transactions industry has now reached a stage when EMV cards are issued in all major geographies worldwide, including latecomers to the technology such as China or the USA.
As EMV cards are in the hands of everyone, issuers are looking for differentiation in their card offers through physical card features. Actually, issuers are just satisfying cardholders demands for status symbols through their payment cards. While payment networks specify unlimited credit functions for the MasterCard Black Card, Visa Signature Card, the American Express Centurion Card and a few others, issuers have to be able to propose physical characters for these cards to fulfill cardholders’ demand for status.
The demand for status signs from high-end cardholders drives a race for exclusive features on banking cards. Already, several card vendors propose special inks or metallic patches on the card surface. Now, customers want to feel the weight of their finances in their hands! Hence card vendors are proposing cards with a metallic core that show the value of the card and makes cardholders feel their power in their hands. Card manufacturers such as Giesecke & Devrient, Idemia and Gemalto, as well as smaller ones, are in a race for innovative card bodies. An example is their offer for metal core cards that provide reassurance to the cardholders. Besides the marketing aspect, providing metal core cards is also a technical feat for card manufacturers, especially when the cards have to support contactless RF communication.
The extreme is probably reached when cards include gold or diamonds. For instance, Sberbank, a couple years ago, issued to its 100 most elite Visa Infinite customers in Kazakhstan, a card made of solid gold, studded with 26 diamonds, equal to 0.17 carats, but with no RF function. Sberbank charged its customers US$ 100,000 (EUR 81,150) as a first-year fee for this!