The Indomitable Nature of Bank Cards

Evolving Through Decades of Disruption

Ermes Dajko – Senior Cloud Solutions Architect

In the continually evolving landscape of banking and finance, one element has remained surprisingly resilient against the tides of change: the humble bank card. Since their inception in the 1950s, cards have woven into the fabric of global commerce, becoming ubiquitous in wallets and online transactions. They may even go back farther!

Some of the first credit cards recorded in history were found in ancient Mesopotamia 1. These cards were clay tablets treated like lines of credit and traded with neighbouring civilizations. Ancient Mesopotamians inscribed these clay tablets with contracts, their business information, and details on financial transactions.

The clay tablets are almost 5,000 years old and show how early commerce may have worked worldwide from 2000 to 1750 B.C. These early credit cards paved the way for official transfers of money and goods that were sometimes facilitated by debt and used for commercial purposes.

The Stickiness of Card Technology

Despite being deemed outdated by some who judge by today’s technological standards, bank cards have survived and thrived, adapting to each new wave of disruption the industry and users throw at them. This paradoxical endurance raises a compelling question: why can’t banks and financial institutions seem to move beyond the Visa/MasterCard networks?

Cards have become the most enduring piece of technology in banking history. Their journey from a simple piece of plastic to sophisticated digital financial tools exemplifies their ability to evolve massively while maintaining their core functionality. This adaptability has seen them through numerous disruptions, emerging more robust each time. The internet era could have sidelined cards in favor of digital-only transactions. Instead, Visa and MasterCard enhanced their offerings with strong security measures, online insurance, and sophisticated fraud management systems, cementing their position in the digital economy.

The Challenge of Open Banking and Fintech

The rise of open banking and fintech innovations brought predictions of the end for traditional card networks. These sectors introduced virtual, disposable cards and integrated financial services that bypassed the need for physical cards. Embedded finance and Banking-as-a-Service (BaaS) models allowed businesses to offer financial products directly at the Point of Sale (PoS), seemingly diminishing the visibility and relevance of cards. Yet, cards adapted to these changes, morphing into essential components of new offerings like Buy Now, Pay Later (BNPL) services, which some heralded as the death knell for traditional credit cards.

The Emergence of Pay by Bank

The most recent disruptor, Pay by Bank, promised a direct challenge to the supremacy of card-based transactions. By enabling consumers to authorize payments directly from their bank accounts, this method offered a seemingly cardless payment experience that was more convenient and secure. However, even in this revolutionary context, cards and their networks found a way to remain indispensable. The integration of Mastercard’s network in JPMorgan’s launch of Pay By Bank services illustrates the persistent need for the infrastructure and merchant acceptance networks that card companies provide.

The Inescapable Network Effect

The resilience of card networks can be attributed to their vast merchant acceptance and the suite of services they offer. Merchant management, risk and compliance, fraud monitoring, and anti-money laundering are critical functions these networks manage, relieving banks of these burdensome responsibilities. Moreover, the universal acceptance of cards and consumer protections like insurance and dispute resolution presents a compelling value proposition that alternative payment methods have yet to match fully.

The Future of Banking in a Card-Dominant World

Despite the onslaught of innovations aiming to displace them, cards and their networks like Visa and MasterCard remain central to the ecosystem of modern banking and digital payments. Their ability to provide seamless transactions, security, and global connectivity makes them indispensable to consumers and merchants alike. This reality has prompted banks to innovate alongside card networks rather than attempting to circumvent them, recognizing the formidable challenge of competing against such deeply entrenched systems.

The Role of Technology-First Platforms in Banking’s Future

As banks pilot through the same disruptive forces that have tested the card industry—the internet, Fintechs, or the rise of BaaS and embedded finance—they must remain agile, adapting quickly to consumer demands and emerging payment models. This requires a robust banking platform providing the bank with evolving Banking capabilities.

Banks can learn a lot from the evolutionary steps that cards went through. Although their core business remains unchanged, the capabilities around it massively evolved beyond the card. Banking technology evolved similarly. Just like the cards, which are used in many different payment methods than initially conceived, today’s countless different payment options mean that Banks need to have Payment platforms, like Temenos Payments, to ensure completeness. If a single payment method is missing, that’s an exit reason for a client to use a bank that provides that option. Also, similar to cards, banks had to turn digital and significantly improve their risk and compliance capabilities once the internet opened digital channels, turning them towards solutions like Temenos Digital and Financial Crime Mitigation.

The rise of digital and embedded finance unlocked massive transaction flows, which, just like for the card networks, pushed Banks towards the cloud to be able to meet the scalability, availability and elasticity demands coming from BaaS channels. Cloud Native and Agnostic platforms are designed to equip banks for the future regarding business and technology capabilities, offering the completeness they require. From core services on paperclip financial products like Accounts, Lending, BNPL, etc to Financial Crime, Digital Channels and Payments. This enables them to meet the ever-changing preferences of their customers and maintain relevance in such an evolving landscape.


The journey of cards from physical clay tokens 5,000 years ago to integral components of the digital payment infrastructure underscores a broader narrative of adaptation and resilience in the face of disruption. As the banking sector evolves, the lessons from the card industry’s survival and adaptability offer valuable insights. Banks must leverage technology-first platforms to stay ahead of the curve, ensuring they can meet the diverse needs of consumers in a world where, despite all odds, cards remain a vital and invincible force.



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Ermes Dajko – Senior Cloud Solutions Architect