A bank will normally issue cards that are part of the Mastercard or Visa schemes. The exception is where they may also issue Amex cards because they are a charge card, not a debit or credit card.
Card production facilities can be expensive to set-up and require dual operational contingency sites for business continuity.
Banks may outsource card personalisation, production, and dispatch to a specialist third-party because of economies of scale.
Because of the risk of fraud and theft these production facilities are high-security sites with multiple levels of physical, human, and electronic defences that are constantly tested and upgraded. They are unnoticed and may look like a simple factory on an industrial site. The cards and chips are treated securely with the end-to-end production, personalisation, and dispatch process audited at every stage.
Chips – are sophisticated micro-devices that are activated when in contact with a terminal physically or without contact. They are encrypted and hold the cardholder’s details, which are printed on the card, along with various counters and keys that allow the card to operate online or off-line as required. They are encoded with any usage or transaction limits.
Production – Production is integrating a batch of blank chips into plastic cards in anticipation of personalisation with customers’ details.
Cards are formed from two distinct parts. The plastic card is formed of several layers, including an aerial to connect to POS devices for contactless payments and microcircuitry that links this with the chip. The card will also have an integrated magnetic strip for swipe POS or older ATMs.
Plastic is sourced from several specialist producers who comply with EMV and individual scheme standards. Chips must comply with EMV and scheme standards and are also sourced from several specialist producers. Chips are pre-encoded with EMV standard functionality and security.
The batch of cards is tested to make sure that the chip has integrated with the card and its circuitry and are ready for personalisation.
Personalisation – the cards with embedded chips are embossed or printed and encoded with the cardholder details. Most cards were embossed to allow them to be used in manual machines, but are being phased out because of the prevalence of electronic POS devices.
Card number – this is normally a 16-digit number, called the primary account number (PAN) where the first part identifies the issuing bank, and the rest identifies the cardholder. It is different to the cardholder’s bank account number that is often printed on debit cards.
Dates and issue numbers – cards are also printed with an expiry date and may be printed with a start date and issue number (where the card had been replaced).
Carrier – cards are affixed to a personalised carrier, often a letter, sometimes a simple card, with the customer’s name and address that is inserted into an envelope. Neobanks that rely on debit cards have developed high standards of presentation of new cards in slide-out cardboard wallets.
Dispatch – PINs are dispatched in a letter separate from the card or provided on the customer’s mobile phone app. PINs are normally assigned by the bank and customers can now choose their own PIN by changing it at ATMs. Cards must be activated before they can be used, and the first transaction requires the PIN to be used to activate contactless functionality.