Bank of Communications (Bocom) has won final clearance to launch credit cards bearing its logo and that of its 19.9 per cent shareholder HSBC. The first cards would be issued later this month, ahead of Bocom's multibillion US dollar simultaneous domestic and Hong Kong initial public offering expected by June, sources said. Marketing of the banks' domestic currency cards as well as yuan and US dollar dual-currency cards will begin in key cities, including Beijing, Bocom's home base Shanghai, Shenzhen and Guangzhou. This is likely to be expanded to more than a dozen cities by the end of the year, with hundreds of thousands of cards being sold through Bocom's extensive national branch network. Credit card co-operation was key to Bocom's 14.46 billion yuan stake sale to HSBC last year, the single largest foreign equity investment in the mainland banking sector so far. The two lenders intend to turn Bocom's wholly owned credit-card centre into an equity joint venture once regulations are relaxed to allow credit-card companies to operate independently of commercial banks and take on foreign owners. As one of the world's most promising retail banking markets with 13.62 trillion yuan of private savings and rising spending power, the mainland's low credit-card penetration rate has drawn a string of foreign investors. Of the 762 million bank cards issued, only about three million - less than 5 per cent - are true credit cards. 'Credit cards are very much under-penetrated in China,' Fox-Pitt Kelton analyst Samuel Chen said. 'It will be a long-term growth story.' American Express and the mainland's largest commercial bank, the Industrial & Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), launched their first dual-currency cards in December last year. However, American Express only provided limited back-office support for the ICBC cards. Citigroup and smaller regional bank Shanghai Pudong Development Bank have a similar arrangement, which issued more than 20,000 dual-currency cards last year. Bocom's card issuance will mark another concrete step forward in its co-operation with HSBC and 'could act as a selling point in Bocom's [share sale]', an investment banker said.