More transactions on the cards

PUBLISHED : Friday, 11 January, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 11 January, 2008, 12:00am

Electronic card providers are increasingly seeking innovative ways to expand their product offerings.

Hong Kong's Octopus brand, the world's highest acceptance of a commercial smartcard system with 95 per cent of Hong Kong people (aged 16 to 65) possessing one, is moving from strength to strength as new opportunities emerge to expand the footprint.

There are more than 50,000 Octopus card readers in Hong Kong and the card is used to conduct more than 10 million transactions per day, valued at more than HK$85 million.

Octopus cards can even be used for access control in schools and apartment blocks, and more than 120 Hong Kong schools use Octopus cards as the registration process for students.

Octopus Cards chief executive Prudence Chan said new uses for the system were regularly being added.

'Many businesses approach Octopus to see how we can work together through partnerships,' Ms Chan said.

Companies use Octopus cards to promote events and anniversaries, the electronic chips, which form the heart of the Octopus system, are also embedded in items of jewellery and watches.

The widescale use of the Octopus system includes 1,000 service providers, 22 financial institutions providing Octopus Automatic Add Value Service to customers and more than 50,000 Octopus devices in the field.

But, despite its rapid growth, less than 250 Octopus staff are responsible for the entire operation. A third of staff are involved in sales and marketing, a third look after operations and a third supervise technical operations.

'Our staff are enthusiastic and committed and without their professionalism we would not be in the position we are today,' Ms Chan said.

A multiskilled talent pool is also vital for maintaining and expanding MasterCard Worldwide lifestyle-enhancing card products. Danny Cheung, MasterCard Worldwide vice-president and business manager for Greater China, Asia-Pacific, said MasterCard focused on providing added-value services to increasingly expectant and sophisticated customers. He said to achieve this the company relied on a workforce that could provide innovative products and services.

MasterCard's worldwide network ensures customers can take advantage of a wide range of travel, luxury goods and food and beverage incentives.

'We provide different types of training and recruit people with specialist skills to make sure we provide the services that meet our customers' lifestyle requirements,' Mr Cheung said.

To provide customers with added convenience and better security, the company developed virtual technology that could be embedded in a mobile phone.

'The system will provide access to global facilities and services,' Mr Cheung said.

The system is already undergoing trials in Taiwan and is expected to be introduced in Hong Kong in the near future.

Using the concept of 'more than just a card', Koh Yat-chung, American Express International Greater China general manager, said American Express aimed to provide a service that acted as a lifestyle accessory tool through supporting unique and changing lifestyle expectations.

'We evolve our services and products to meet the demands of our customers [and what they] are looking for,' Mr Koh said.

To add additional services to its premier segment, American Express introduced an invitation-only Centurion card that provides access and membership to exclusive clubs, personalised travel services and concierge services such as restaurant reservations.

Mr Koh said a growing number of sophisticated individuals did not simply aspire to live an affluent lifestyle, they wanted to be connoisseurs of the benefits wealth provided.

'Hong Kong's affluent are outgrowing conventual definitions of luxury. Today, individuals understand and appreciate luxury in contrast to owning possessions. This is creating a new social currency among the affluent. This currency is exchanged for prestige, recognition and distinction,' Mr Koh said.

He said for American Express to provide the range of services customers expected, the company had a long-established systematic process of in-house training and recruiting specialist talent skills from complementing industries.

'We differentiate ourselves in the level of service we provide developed over many years,' Mr Koh said.

Systems are in place to motivate staff and encourage commitment through empowerment.

James Dixon, country manager, Hong Kong and Macau, Visa International, said Visa helped to facilitate global commerce through the transfer of value and information among financial institutions, merchants, consumers, businesses and government entities.

'We offer a range of branded payment product platforms which our financial institution clients use to develop and offer credit, charge, debit, prepaid and cash access programmes to card holders,' Mr Dixon said.

Visa works closely with its business partners to introduce various payment tools for card holders and for member financial institutions and merchants to help develop their businesses.

Visa Infinite and Platinum cards target high-net-worth individuals and offer them exclusive benefits and privileges.

'We also have commercial cards that help small to medium-sized enterprises separate personal and business expenses, consolidate all business spending into one card, and view business transactions of all corporate cards in one consolidated monthly statement. People are our most important asset and we have an ongoing programme to identify talent for appropriate positions and provide opportunities for our people to develop and grow.'

The number of Octopus smart cards in circulation as of November 2007: 15m