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History of plastic cards in the UK

Plastic cards have changed the way that we pay for goods and services and today, most consumers pay for at least half their purchases with a plastic card. The forerunners of plastic cards are a long way from the sophisticated and widely-accepted cards that we are now accustomed to but, none-the-less, laid the foundations for the convenience and ease-of-use that we now enjoy.

Timeline and milestones

1880
First credit voucher product introduced in the UK by Provident Clothing Group, a pre-curser to credit cards. Customers were issued with vouchers that they could use in shops on an approved list and payment was made to the Provident Clothing rep who called at the customer’s home.

1914
In the US Western Union provide metal cards giving free deferred payment privileges to preferred customers, which became known as ‘metal money’.

1950
In the US Diners Club issues plastic payments cards aimed at diners; they operate as charge cards. Initial membership was 200 with the card being accepted in 27 restaurants. By the end of the year 20,000 people were using Diners Club.

1951
When customers of New York’s Franklin National Bank submitted an application for a loan they were screened for credit. Approved customers were given a card they could use to make retail purchases.

1951
First UK charge card available when Donald McCullough launches Finders Services after a trip to the US

1958
American Express introduces its own charge card, and Bank of America introduces a credit card called BankAmericard.

1962
Diners Club becomes the first major charge card company in Britain following the merger of Finders Services and Credit Card facilities.

1963
American Express is launched in the UK with an annual fee of £3 12s (£49 in 2005) and a required income of £2,000 (£27,250 in 2005). The card is usable in 3,000 UK outlets and 83,000 overseas outlets. The only Bank of England constraint is a £75 limit on a single item for overseas transactions.

1965
Bank of America develops licensing agreements with other banks enabling them to issue BankAmericards, becoming the first ‘scheme’.

1966
UK’s first credit card issued by Barclays on June 29th. ‘Barclaycard’ was based on the BankAmericard that had been issued a few years earlier in the USA. The card originally offered very limited international operability.

1967
First cash machine in the world installed by Barclays Bank in Enfield, Middlesex and launched in a press call on 27 June. Early dispensers were designed to receive hole-punched vouchers of £10.00 each purchased by the customer from the bank and used in the dispenser when needed.

1969
UK domestic cheque guarantee scheme is established.

1972
NatWest, Midland, Lloyds & RBS join together to issue the Access credit card under the Joint Credit Card Company (JCCC).

1972
Lloyds Bank ‘Cashpoint’ is the first on-line verified ATM using plastic cards with a magnetic stripe.

1974
Consumer Credit Act (Section 75) provides protection to consumers buying goods costing between £30 and £10,000 (£100 and £30,000 in 2005) on their credit card: if the product turns out to be sub-standard, or fails to be delivered, the cardholder can claim compensation from the card-issuing bank. The Act (Section 84) also limits customer liability to no more than £50 if cards are stolen, and used by someone else.

1977
Barclaycard issues the first UK company card – hitherto cards had been issued only to individuals.

1977
Consumer Credit Act comes into force on July 1st 1977

1980s
The UK moves to ‘duality’, i.e. banks begin to issue both Visa and Access cards. Subsequently, the Access consortium begins to break-up, and disappears as a brand as MasterCard gains recognition in the UK. This move brings world-wide acceptance to UK-issued cards.

Early/mid 80s saw the introduction of electronic point of sale terminals.

1985/86
LINK cash machine network established (33 members including Abbey National, Nationwide, Co-Operative Bank, Girobank etc), essentially enabled by the 1986 Building Societies Act.

1986
Matrix cash machine network established (A&L, Anglia, Bradford & Bingley, Bristol & West, Leeds, National & Provincial, Woolwich etc)

1987
1987 Debit cards introduced: Barclays were the first UK bank on the scene issuing the Visa Delta card under the Connect brand in June.

1987
Four bank cash machine network established (Barclays, Lloyds, RBS, BoS)

1988
Switch debit card launched by Midland, NatWest and RBS with the first Switch transaction occurring in October 1988.

1988
Visa test the world’s first multi-function chip card, the SuperSmart card, in Japan.

1989
£100 and £250 UK cheque guarantee limits introduced.

1989
MINT cash machine network established (Midland, NatWest, TSB, Clydesdale, Northern Bank).

1989
LINK and Matrix cash machine networks merge.

1990s
The early 1990s see increased competition, notably with an influx of card issuers from the USA.


Emergence of affinity cards and cards issued by non-financial institutions.

1990
France introduces chip and PIN based upon France-only B0’ standard. (for French domestic use only)

1990
Cashback emerges as a means of acquiring cash (7m transactions in 1990).

1992
MasterCard launch the Maestro brand for its international debit card.

1993
Half of UK adults are regular users of cash machines.

1994
Half of UK adults hold a debit card.

1995
UK debit card volumes exceed credit card volumes for the first time.

1995
Mondex public trials start in Swindon on July 3rd

1995
Product innovation leads to the issuing of gold cards and, eventually, other ‘status symbol’ cards with additional features.

1996
One-billionth cash machine transaction processed by LINK.

1996
The average UK cash machine withdrawal exceeds £50 for the first time.

1996
Visa Electron launched and…

1997
…the Switch Solo card is introduced to offer a closer level of financial management. As every transaction is pre-authorised, banks are able to market the card to a wider range of customers, especially to younger card holders such as students, and to link cards to savings/investment products.1998 UK debit card payments exceed personal cheques, and account for more than half of all non-cash spending in supermarkets.

1997
UK chip trials in Northampton and Dunfermline ran between October 1997, with over 117,000 cards issued, 535 terminals installed in 463 outlets, and 14 ATMs.

1998
UK’s first cash machine not owned by a financial institution installed by Bank Machine.

1998
UK debit card payments exceed personal cheques, and account for more than half of all non-cash spending in supermarkets.

1999
Half of all UK adults hold a credit card. The average value of a credit card purchases exceeds £50 for the first time.

1999
Internet card issuers (eg, Egg, Smile, Marbles) join the market place.

1999
Euro comes into being, allowing euro-denominated transactions for the first time.

2000s
Aggressive pricing (eg, zero/low interest rate offers) position credit cards as a cheaper form of personal short-term borrowing than loans.

2000
Cash machine networks consolidate at LINK.

2000
General withdrawal of charges for using cash machines across the bank-owned cash machine estate.


First cash machines deployed by the Independent ATM Deployers (IADs).

2001
More than half of UK retail spending is on plastic. More than 100 million card payments are made on-line.

2001
First year that cash machine withdrawals exceeded one billion during the year.

2001
Debit card expenditure exceeds credit card expenditure for the first time.

2002
Chip & PIN announced in the UK – biggest consumer change programme since, and including, decimalisation.

2002
More than half of all cash acquired by UK adults is acquired through cash machines. Mobile-phone top ups become available at cash machines for the first time.

2003
More than half of all UK adults regularly use debit cards. The average number of credit cards per adult exceeds two for the first time.

2003
UK Chip & PIN trials in Northampton.

2003
The mainland UK’s first cash machine dispensing Euro notes installed at Old Broad Street in the City by NatWest.

2004
Switch is re-branded to Maestro.

2004
UK card expenditure exceeds cash expenditure for the first time. The average debit card user spends over £100 per week.

2004
HBoS launch the first cashback reward debit card.

2007
The first contactless card transactions occur in the UK. This technology offers a quick and convenient alternative to cash for low-value transactions.

2007
A mobile phone with built-in contactless payment card technology (and Oyster card functionality for travel) piloted in London

2009
Additional security feature included - a unique chip security code to combat magnetic strip skimming

2010
New minimum payments introduced to ensure cardholders’ debt is always reducing.

2012
Annual statements brought in to help customers assess how they have used their credit card over the year, as well as any fees and costs incurred.

2012
Contactless payments introduced on London buses.

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