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Visa: A short history

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Visa's history begins in 1958, when Bank of America initiated its BankAmericard program in Fresno, Calif.  Originally, the company only planned to provide the system across the state.  But in 1965, Bank of America started to subscribe licensing agreements with a collection of banks outside California. 

Over the following years, numerous banks nationwide would license the card system from Bank of America.  In the late 1960s, Dee Hock, one of the heads of a group of BankAmericard licensee banks, suggested that the banks create an association. 

The banks' association would act as a joint venture, enabling members to gain the advantages of a centralized payments system while also competing fairly for their own benefit.  Hock became the association's first president. 

In 1970, Bank of America passed control of BankAmericard to the various BankAmericard issuer banks which comprised the newly-established NBI, or National BankAmericard, Inc.  NBI acted as an independent nonstock corporation that managed, promoted, and developed the BankAmericard system in the U.S. 

Bank of America, meanwhile, continued issuing and supporting the international licenses itself.  By 1972, licenses had been granted in 15 countries, and in 1974, multinational member corporation IBANCO was established to manage the global BankAmericard program.  

The directors of IBANCO decided in 1976 that uniting the numerous international networks into a single global network with one name would be in the corporation's best interests.  Still, in many countries, there was hesitancy to issue a card associated with Bank of America, although the connection was somewhat tenuous.  As a result, NBI changed the BankAmericard name to Visa U.S.A. in 1976, while IBANCO would become Visa International.

Dee Hock came up with the name Visa, which he considered instantly recognizable in many cultures and languages and suggesting of universal acceptance.  Today, Visa stands for the Visa International Service Association.

Visa joined with the PLUS ATM network in 1986, offering its cardholders easy access to cash.  As the 1980s wound to a close, greater numbers of banks had begun to offer debit cards to give bank account holders direct access to their money. 

In 2006, Visa is a private membership association jointly owned by over 20,000 member financial institutions worldwide.  The 1.46 billion Visa cards in circulation generate in excess of $4.3 trillion in sales and are accepted in over 160 countries, for nearly universal reach and popularity. 

Published: March 30, 2007


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