China UnionPay is a bankcard service and interbank network, in-line with the competitive models of Visa and Mastercard. The company was founded in 2002 by the People’s Bank of China, and has since grown to be the number one issuer of cards and the number to network in transaction processing worldwide.
As with Visa or Mastercard-stamped plastics, merchant terminals (in-store and online) have to be set up to accept UnionPay cards. For the first decade of its existence, UnionPay was primarily used in China; however, in the last several years the network has added more international affiliates and begun to grow its service offerings for Chinese cardholders abroad, and for new international clients to tap into their rapidly-growing network and services.
Where did UnionPay come from?
UnionPay was founded by the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) in 2002, although interbank networks existed in China previously. The governor of the PBOC had the necessary support and believed that the Bank’s backing could make a larger, ultimately international network; and since then, UnionPay’s success has demonstrated just that.
UnionPay organized the first interbank network of ATMs in China, and completed their initial service offering with a product base of credit and debit cards. In short time, UnionPay cards became the most used in China. The company has expanded their product list and built up new subsidiaries, particularly as they began to grow internationally; however, the company mantra of “pragmatism” in its marketing and decision-making has supported a steady, less-risky rate of growth.
Headquartered in Shanghai, UnionPay began to adopt a more international model after firmly establishing itself as the largest card issuer in China. In 2010, UnionPay was made available for funding to PayPal accounts, and in 2013 an agreement with Discover card added buying power for cardholders online and outside the country. With dual-branded card functionality between UnionPay and its affiliates, today cardholders have the capacity to travel and access their funds in over 100 countries worldwide.
As a complement to the new, international model, UnionPay International was established thereafter, introducing additional client services and promoting use of cards abroad.
Although UnionPay is behind Mastercard and Visa in the number of countries in which it has a presence, it’s 100-country reach is nothing to scoff at. And, as of 2014, UnionPay has been ranked number one in card issuance, and number two in number of transactions. Annual caps established on cash withdrawals for Chinese cardholders outside the country restrict use, and yet UnionPay continues to be the fastest growing international bankcard, with more than 6 Billion cards in existence today.
Who uses UnionPay?
Established fifteen years ago, for the first half of its tenure UnionPay enjoyed the benefits of a central Asian market with booming consumer spending; and, grounded fundamentally in affiliations between Chinese banks, the card provider and network remained overwhelmingly more popular in China than abroad.
Over the course of time, and largely as a product of dual-branding affiliations with Discover, the network has grown its footprint to a presence in more than 100 countries worldwide. With credit and debit cards available, as well as pre-paid cards and other financial services, the ample product list has put UnionPay cards in the pockets of over 750 Million consumers. And with an increased international reach and an extended network of ATMs and institutional affiliates, card use is more practical abroad today than ever before.
The primary products touted on the UnionPay website include:
- Debit cards
- Credit cards
- IC cards (with EMV standards)
- QuickPass (chip-based contactless payment platform)
- Prepaid cards
- Commercial cards
- Premier cards
- Asia theme cards (for business travelers across Asia)
And additional services offered include:
- Global tax refund (available in 37 different countries and regions)
- Global assistance and concierge services (for premium card holders)
- Emergency cash assistance services
- UnionPay Money Express (a remittance service, available for specific countries)
- U Plan platform (a partnership with 1,600 merchants offering exclusive coupons to card holders)
What makes UnionPay special?
Where previous attempts at interbank networks in China never saw success like that of UnionPay, the latter’s backing by the PBOC has proven indispensable in the long-standing success of the network.
On a global level, in 15 short years UnionPay has risen to volumes of card issuing and transaction processing that surpass even Mastercard and Visa. An estimated 6 Billion cards have been issued in a decade and a half, and 750 Million individuals and businesses trust UnionPay as their card issuer and processing network.
With the boom in mobile and contactless payments, eCommerce and eWallets, UnionPay has pushed past its characteristic pragmatism to open up to more robust product offerings and greater international reach. QuickPass, the electric funds transfer technology for contactless payments at sale terminals, helped UnionPay keep pace with other global networks in recent years. UnionPay’s addition as a funding source to PayPal accounts has also helped UnionPay avoid falling behind.
UnionPay International is the company’s subsidiary that demonstrates commitment to growing the company in the international sphere, and to providing services to card holders which enable travel with their cards, promote cross-border transactions and support ongoing innovation and flexibility in the market. With UnionPay-processed-payments available in more than 100 countries, and with the dual-branding affiliations UnionPay has acquired with other international brands, it’s no wonder that UnionPay has now become the fastest-growing card issuer in the world.
Let’s break it down. The major pros of UnionPay are:
- Largest-growing network, with big potential
- Cards accepted in more than 100 countries
- Diverse product base, with cards for most imaginable uses
- Most trusted network in China, for anyone doing business with Chinese companies
- QuickPass technology allows for contactless payments (in select countries)
- Global tax return services (in select countries)
- Dual-branding with affiliates extending buyer power to more merchants
- U Plan partnership platform with exclusive deals for cardholders
- Many additional services provided for cardholders
And the major cons are:
- UnionPay is represented in fewer countries than other major card networks
- Many features and services are restricted to a small number of countries
- Caps on annual cash withdrawals, regardless of balance
- UnionPay is only now introducing chip-based cards; previously, other technology was used to as card security, which opponents argued was not as secure as chip technology
UnionPay has proven itself to be a viable contender to Mastercard, Visa and the like. With an original presence in central Asia, the network has grown to global proportions, with apparent ambitions to remain competitive in the eCommerce space in China and abroad. Billions of UnionPay cards have been issued in 15 short years, and service and product lists have continued to grow.
Per the UnionPay website, the company vision is that of pragmatic expansion, and of shared success between the company and the clients they serve. It is a vision which, by all accounts, has been executed successfully, and with high sights set for the future.