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A History of Credit Cards

Over a relatively short period of time, credit cards have moved from being a rarity to become an essential part of everyday life for many people. The story began back in 1951 with the launch of Diners Club, but it was only in the 1970s and 80s that the pace of growth began to pick up.

By the time the internet started to become widespread in the 1990s, the credit card market was poised to explode in popularity, with heavy competition amongst issuers leading to many innovations in the kind of cards offered.

Below, we set out some of the major landmarks in the development of credit cards as we know them today.

1951 Diners Club launch the first credit card, which is accepted at 27 New York restaurants. Initially, only 200 cards were issued
1958 American Express issues its first charge card, and within 5 years over 1 million cards were in use
1958 Joseph P. Williams invents the first multi-purpose credit card, BankAmericard, which he developed while working at the Bank of America
1966 Fourteen US banks join forces to form the Interlink card payment processor as a rival to BankAmericard. Interlink ultimately evolved into todays’s Mastercard
1967 Barclay’s launch their Barclaycard, the UK’s first general credit card
1972 RBS, NatWest, Lloyds and Midland partner to issue the Access credit card
1977 BankAmericard becomes Visa
1977 The first UK business credit card (as opposed to personal) is launched by Barclaycard
1979 MasterCharge changes its name to become Mastercard
1980s The decade saw the gradual move towards UK banks issuing Mastercard and Visa cards, and the breaking up of alliances such as Access. This process means that cards issued by UK banks can now be used internationally
1987 Debit cards are introduced in the UK as Barclays launch their Connect Visa Delta card
1988 The Switch debit card is launched by Midland, NatWest and RBS, who later spin the operation off into a seperate company allowing other banks to use the system
1990 A forerunner of Chip and PIN technology is introduced in France
1992 MasterCard launches its international debit card under the Maestro brand
1996 Goldfish launch the first UK credit card loyalty scheme, with Goldfish Points earned on purchases which could be redeemed for vouchers to spend at selected high street stores
1997 Alliance & Leicester introduces the concept of Cash Back, by launching a credit card that gives money back on purchases
1999 Figures show that half of all UK adults now hold at least one credit card.
1999 Internet-only card issuers including Egg, Smile, and Marbles are launched, the first UK cards to be operated online from application onwards
2000 Egg comes up with the balance transfer marketing wheeze, offering 0% on transfers for six months – the first such offer in the UK
2000 Accucard, an independent UK card issuer, launches the innovative ‘build your own’ credit card where you can combine the features that matter to you
2002 Planned UK adoption of Chip and PIN confirmed by the major banks and clearance systems
2002 Banking giant Lloyds TSB buys Accucard, forming Create services, which begins to develop a range of branded ‘build your own’ credit cards in partnership with insurers, retailers, and many other companies
2003 Figures show that more than half of UK adults now regularly use debit cards, while the average number of credit card accounts per adult is now more than two.
2003 UK Chip and PIN trials begin in Northampton.
2004 HBoS launch the MoneyBack card, first debit card to feature a cashback program
2004 Rollout of Chip and PIN begins in earnest, with a completion date of 2005
2005 Vanquis, part of the Provident Financial group, receive a flurry of media attention following the launch of their 69.9% APR credit card aimed at people with bad credit ratings

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