How modern card issuing is redefining card programmes

In my previous blog, I talked about the culture at Marqeta to give you an insight into what makes our company tick – as well as our approach to helping partners achieve card programme success. It’s perhaps appropriate then that I follow-up with a look at the evolution of payment cards, which have been an essential part of life for decades, having started in the United States and then arriving in the UK in the early 1950s.

Indeed, for well over half a century the traditional bank-led card programmes dominated the cards landscape, underpinned by payment processing pioneers. They provided a flawlessly robust service albeit with monolithic technology using programming languages like Cobol. The system worked well and little changed. But then came a shock.

The tectonic plates of finance begin to shift

Fintech aficionados like you and me know that when it comes to card programme innovation that shock was the financial crisis of 2008, which dealt a serious blow to trust in banks.

At the same time, technology was beginning to democratise finance – and it’s no coincidence that Marqeta launched in 2010. By procuring independent services, it was now both possible and affordable to build a holistic modular card programme that could better serve customers’ needs. 

For many of us, mobile phones were also emerging as the de facto platform for an increasing range of leisure and business activities. My first smartphone was the original iPhone circa 2008, which seems a world away now, but perhaps like most consumers, my expectations, as far as spending and finances were concerned, were beginning to move into real time. 

It was breathtaking to witness this rapidly changing landscape, which triggered a wave of innovation and gave rise to challenger banks and niche card products. We were also seeing that many digital-first businesses, which used modern API technology to address payment problems and create instant and seamless user experiences, were being founded by chief technology officers. 

In my experience, fintech startups in their desire to quickly build and launch innovative card programmes found it difficult to find a processor capable of supporting their visions. On the one hand, these innovators had the option of working with established processing pioneers who offered robustness at scale but little in the way of flexibility and agility. And on the other, a progressive new breed of startup processors had plenty of willingness and flexibility but lacked experience at scale. And so the role of payment processor reached an inflexion point.

Whilst newly-launched card programmes were quickly iterating the latest user functionality and rapidly building their cardholder base – neither the processing pioneers nor progressive processors were effectively able to serve their needs. We could see that a clear gap in the market was emerging.

Marqeta: we didn’t set out to become a processor but… 

The friction between card programme innovation and processing inertia was always going to result in the birth of a new approach. 

I think it just took someone with the mindset of Marqeta founder Jason Gardner to come up against this barrier to progress. Jason’s search for a better processing solution, in the end, became a whole new product development project. It may come as a surprise to learn that Marqeta started life as an issuer with the aim of offering a card platform to host virtual coupons like LivingSocial and Groupon.

Spurred on by frustrations with processors, our developers directed their skills and energy towards processing technology and set about redefining the category.

What we created gave card programme innovators nothing short of the tools to quickly build, test and launch a secure, scaleable and customer-centric proposition on their terms, using fully documented Open API technology.

This is what I call modern card issuing. 

A solution capable of delivering global scale and growth 

Our progression coincided with the rise of challenger banks and fintechs catering to significant niches. In a few short years, these dynamic propositions have seen their user numbers soar from thousands to hundreds of thousands to millions.

Very much a part of their journey, we’ve supported these innovators as they crossed borders and in some cases, continents. Brands include Klarna, Sweden’s buy now pay later solution which operates in the US, Europe and Australia, and Capital on Tap who are moving from their native UK base into Europe and beyond.

So, what does redefined card issuing look like? 

In this age of unrivalled innovation, I’m proud to say that Marqeta has emerged as a leader. This is down to our ability to deliver internationally scaleable card programmes that require control and stability. 

Through our unique entrepreneurial culture we’ve changed the rules of engagement for processors. We’ve created the expectation that technology ought to be instantly accessible via a sandbox and hundreds of fully documented APIs.

And in this new landscape – a million miles from a world of legacy technology – Marqeta’s issuing partners enjoy unparalleled freedom to build, test and launch at speed. For proof, see Square, Uber, DoorDash, Instacart, Twisto and Capital on Tap. All brands that need agility, rich functionality and reliability. All supported by Marqeta. 

As the planet’s first truly modern card issuer we’re passionate about delivering a leading-edge experience to card programmes the world over. If you’re about to embark on a journey of innovation, talk to us today. We might just help you cross continents too.