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Credit cards with style

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Does the credit card in your wallet look, feel, and even smell the way you wish it did? As credit card innovations produce changes to the accepted appearance of plastic, the card of your dreams may be just an application away.

With the credit card industry experiencing a slowdown in growth, card issuers are experimenting with a variety of approaches to encourage the use of plastic -- such as credit cards that feature unique designs, different textures, and high-tech security features.  

American Express is testing a "butterfly" credit card which folds in half and pops out of a silver case connected to a key ring.  American Express notes that design is one way to introduce innovation into the credit card market. 

While an attractive credit card does not necessarily mean rewards or low interest rates, industry executives report internal research indicates that credit card appearance matters to consumers. 

MBNA, which is now part of Bank of America, helped change the credit card industry in the 1990s by appealing to customers with affinity cards the displayed images of their favorite sports team, hobbies or universities. Fast-forward, and nowadays Chase is offering science fiction fans a fiery-red, outer-space themed "Battlestar Galactica" credit card tied to the revival of the cult sci-fi television series with an embossed tagline identifying the cardholder as a "Galactica Fleet Member."   

The recent decision by American Express to license the technology for its transparent Blue credit card gave a major boost to the surge in card design. That credit card was met with some major attention when it was first issued in 2001 due to a unique look. American Express executives say that Blue cardholders hold onto the credit card for more time than some other versions, with consumers also using it more often than their other credit cards.

Versatile Card Technology, which purchased the rights to the technology American Express used to create the Blue card, is working feverishly to create sample designs it can pitch to banks, merchants, and direct-mail companies. Among the dozens of unusual credit cards that VCT has manufactured in the past few years is a scratch-and-sniff model that smells like coffee, in addition to around 90 other aromas. Meanwhile, VCT is in talks with a retailer regarding a perfume-scented credit card.

The firm is also developing credit cards coated with a new form of plastic that can be used to create texture and depth, for a tennis ball's felt-like feel or a football's grooved seam. Such credit cards can cost up to 25 percent more to produce than regular cards, depending on the size of the order, explains VCT's chief operating officer.  With additional bells and whistles, the price for these credit card can be even higher.

Still, companies are willing to spend more on production of the credit cards on the hope that their designs will inspire customers to use them more frequently, since that results in greater earnings for the credit card issuers.

Elsewhere, American Express is replacing its Centurion plastic credit cards with hand-crafted titanium versions that weigh .53 ounce, versus .17 ounce for the average plastic credit card. That added bulk has AmEx executives highlighting the "plunk factor" when such a card gets tossed onto a table. The company would not reveal the cost of titanium credit cards, but it is not charging customers extra for them. The Centurion credit card is available to consumers who charge at least $250,000 annually.

There are security developments, as well. Los Angeles-based Innovative Card Technologies has developed a credit card that displays a one-time numeric password much like the security tokens used by banks and corporations. By pressing a button on the back, a consumer can change the numeric password via a chip inside the credit card.  The president of Innovative Card Technologies says he hopes to build on that technology to develop a credit card that can show the most recent transaction processed.

Published: January 9, 2007


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Updated: 07-03-2015


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