Choose a Card Strategy

As the owner of a card program, your decisions about when and how to provide payment cards can affect customer engagement levels and customer loyalty. This guide explains the card products that Galileo offers and how you can use those products to meet your business goals. You may also want to read these card-related guides:

What are your goals?

Before deciding on a card strategy, you should have a clear idea of what you want to do with your cards. Some of your goals may be:

  • Provide an innovative banking experience
  • Help the underbanked make card payments
  • Provide businesses with an easy way to pay vendors
  • Encourage potential customers to try your product
  • Distribute gift or rewards cards
  • Provide a personalized banking experience
  • Enable corporate spending accounts
  • Provide specialized fleet cards

With your goals in mind, consider these questions:

  • Is it important for my cardholders to have a tangible card?
  • Do I want to provide a card immediately at signup, or is it all right to wait a few days?
  • Does the card need to be issued to an individual or can it be distributed in a store to anyone?
  • Do I want to support mobile wallets?
  • Will my cardholders want customized card designs?
  • Should I distribute cards to potential customers or to signed-on customers only?
  • Do I want a card for a single payment or should it be valid for multiple transactions?
  • Do I want my card to boost my brand?

Keep in mind these general principles:

  • Getting a spending card into the hands of your newly enrolled customers as soon as possible is a crucial step to increasing engagement and retaining customers. You can get a significantly higher retention rate when customers can spend right after signup.
  • The conventional method of signing up a customer for a physical card and then shipping it several days later introduces a gap between signup and spending during which a customer can lose interest and never come back.
  • Today's customers typically expect their card issuer to handle sophisticated use cases such as mobile wallets and contactless payments; on the other hand, your target demographic might be looking for simplicity, with less reliance on high-tech devices and more presence outside cyberspace.

To help you meet your goals, read the sections below that describe what kinds of cards you can offer. See also the Use cases section for card-strategy suggestions.

Card categories

Cards in the Galileo system are categorized by their tangibility:

  • Physical — A piece of plastic or other material with the card number printed on it.
  • Digital — An electronic representation of a card that resides only on a web site, a mobile app, or in a mobile wallet. Digital cards are further categorized as:
    • Virtual — Exists only as an image that is displayed in a mobile app or on a website.
    • Digital image of a physical card — Electronic representation of a physical card, with the same PAN/CVV/expiry date as the physical card.
    • Tokenized — Provisioned to a mobile wallet.

Cards are also categorized by their relationship to the cardholder:

  • Personalized — A card that is issued to a specific cardholder, with the cardholder's name displayed on it.
  • Instant issue — A card that is printed in bulk, with no cardholder name displayed on it. May or may not be issued to an individual cardholder. Can be preloaded with funds.

Physical cards

A physical card is the type of payment card that most people are familiar with. Physical cards are accepted everywhere that card payments are accepted—not every merchant has the capacity to process mobile wallet payments. For example, at many restaurants, the server collects physical cards after the meal. Providing a phone might be awkward or impractical at this point, so it's far more convenient to present a physical card.

Because of its tangible presence, a physical card is a compelling way to promote your brand. Cardholders enjoy presenting distinctive cards at points of sale—if the card is unusual or particularly eye-catching, it will spark inquiries about your program and leave a lasting impression on those who see or handle your card.

When you offer physical cards, you must partner with a third-party vendor that does the actual card creation—called "embossing," after the former practice of printing raised numbers on the card. Galileo is integrated with multiple emboss vendors and is glad to make introductions. When you select an emboss vendor, take these factors into consideration:

  • Materials — All vendors offer plastic, but some also offer novel materials like wood, bamboo and metal.
  • Graphic effects — Ask about elements such as colored edges, metallic ink, sparkles, opalescence, fluorescent ink, translucence and custom surfaces.
  • Security — Verify that the latest card-authentication security is available.
  • Cost — Choose the balance between features and cost that best suits your use case.

See the Design a Card guide for more information.

When a card is issued to a particular person, the card must be embossed and mailed to the cardholder, a process that can take several days. You can also issue a physical personalized card while at the same time providing instant access to the card by using the Digital First product. On the other hand, an instant-issue card can be distributed in person to your customers, so that they can start spending immediately. As desired, you can switch your instant-issue customers to personalized cards to enhance their experience. See Switching Products for more information.

Digital cards

A digital card is a graphical representation of a card in an electronic medium. A digital card can be issued immediately to a cardholder without waiting for a card to be embossed and mailed. A digital card usually has the card number displayed on the front as well as the expiry date and CVV. Cardholders typically use digital cards on online platforms such as mobile apps and web sites.

You can deliver a digital card to a cardholder using these methods:

  • Displayed in a mobile app
  • Provisioned to a mobile wallet

The design for a digital card can be similar to the design for a physical card or it can be completely different. Although digital cards do not provide the same sensory experience that physical cards do, an attractive design still helps improve cardholders' impression of your brand.

See Design a Card for more information.

Digital card varieties

In the Galileo system, digital cards take one of three forms:

  • Virtual card — A virtual card exists only as an image that is displayed inside a mobile app or on a website—it is never embossed. A virtual card is associated with a virtual card product, as specified in the product parameters. The PAN, CVV, and expiry date are visible.
  • Digital image of a physical card — A physical card is issued, and a digital image of the card—with the same PAN, CVV and expiry—is also provided for the cardholder's use. The digital image is not associated with a virtual card product but with a physical card product.
  • Tokenized card — The card is provisioned to a mobile wallet such as Apple Pay, Google Pay, or Samsung Pay. The PAN, CVV, and expiry are not visible on a tokenized card—the wallet contains only a token that is associated with the PAN in a secured, remote database at the time of the purchase. The underlying product can be either a virtual card or a physical card.

Mobile wallet support

The ubiquity of mobile phones means that mobile wallets are an increasingly popular way to make payments, both online and in person. Both physical and digital cards can be provisioned to mobile wallets (but not instant-issue cards).

The act of provisioning a card to a mobile wallet is called "tokenization." Tokenization in the context of payment cards means that instead of storing and transmitting a card's PAN, a randomized string is substituted instead. The randomized string is generated by the card network, which keeps track of which tokens correspond to the PANs. The tokens can be specific to a particular merchant or mobile wallet, or be valid for only a specified number of purchases. Malicious actors who intercept tokens cannot use them to transact because they do not also have the associated mobile wallet, or they are not using the right token with the right merchant, or the token has already expired.

A mobile wallet, instead of containing a card's PAN, CVV, and expiry date, contains only the token. The PAN, CVV, and expiry date are therefore not visible to the cardholder in the wallet interface.

Cardholder experience
  1. The cardholder installs or already has a mobile wallet app on their phone. If the cardholder intends to use the mobile wallet at physical points of sale, the phone's hardware must support NFC transmissions.
  2. The cardholder requests a payment card from you or requests that an existing payment card be included in their mobile wallet.
  3. The card is provisioned to the wallet in one of these ways:
    • Using the mobile wallet's interface, the customer manually inputs the PAN, expiry, CVV and other information. The wallet tokenizes the card.
    • You push the card to the wallet in the form of a card image and a token.
  4. At a point of sale the customer has these options:
    • Physical point of sale — "Wave" the phone near an NFC card reader
    • Virtual point of sale — Configure a merchant's app to use the card in the mobile wallet
  5. The merchant transmits the token to the card network, which correlates the token with the PAN.
  6. The network forwards the authorization request to Galileo.
  7. You or Galileo approves the authorization request.
  8. The merchant completes the transaction.

See Setup for Mobile Wallets for more information.

Card products

Galileo offers these card products:

Personalized cards

A personalized card is issued to an individual, with that person's name displayed on the card. The card can be either digital or physical (or both), but if it is physical it must be printed on-demand by an embosser and mailed to the cardholder, a process that can take several days. (Galileo offers ways to bridge the gap with virtual and Digital First cards, explained below.) Whether physical or digital, a personalized card can be provisioned to a mobile wallet.

With personalized cards the account can be associated with a debit account or with a credit account. Personalized cards are accepted by all merchants that accept payment cards. If you want to offer a card that your customers can use just about anywhere, a personalized card is your best option.

Instant-issue cards

In contrast to a personalized card, an instant-issue card is a physical card that is printed in bulk for distribution at a physical location such as a store. With an instant-issue card, the business name is printed on the card but the cardholder's name is not. By printing the cards in bulk, you can make the cards available immediately to cardholders instead of needing to wait a few days for a personalized card to be embossed and mailed.

There are two types of instant-issue cards:

  • Gift — The card is preloaded with a fixed denomination, it cannot be reloaded, and it is not issued to an individual.
  • Reloadable account — The card can be issued to an individual, optionally with funds preloaded on it, and the cardholder can add funds to the card as needed. The underlying account can be a DDA or a GPR.

Instant-issue cards cannot be provisioned to mobile wallets, they cannot be used with credit products, and they are not universally accepted by all merchants. For example, a car-rental agency will not accept a prepaid card to reserve a car. In the case of gift cards, they might be accepted by only one merchant, or you can make them more generally applicable.

See Setup for Instant Issue for more information.

Virtual cards

A virtual card is a type of digital card that does not have a physical counterpart. Virtual cards can be associated with a debit or credit account, and they can be provisioned to mobile wallets. They can also be issued for a single use or for specified merchants.

The primary advantage to offering a virtual card is that it can be issued and used immediately instead of waiting for a card to be embossed, mailed and activated. A virtual card is active upon creation instead of passing through various states before becoming active, as with a physical card. Virtual cards don't incur the expense of embossing a card, and they cannot be physically lost or stolen the way a physical card can.

Virtual cards are especially useful as single-use cards. For example, a business might decide that instead of writing checks to its vendors, it will issue virtual cards. Virtual cards provide increased security and ease of administration over physical checks.

A virtual card is also a useful component in a hybrid virtual/physical strategy (called Virtual First), wherein you issue a virtual card to new customers, and after they demonstrate the intention to stick with your product, you switch them to a physical card with the same PAN and expiry as the virtual card.

See Setup for Virtual Cards for more information.

Digital First cards

To combine the immediacy of a digital card with the style and substance of a physical card, use the Digital First product. Customers sign up for a physical card—which is embossed and mailed as usual—and in the meantime you provide a digital image of that card to use immediately. The physical card has the same PAN, CVV, and expiry date as the digital card, so if the customer sets up recurring payments with the digital card, the arrival of the physical card won't require them to input new information. When the physical card arrives at the customer's location, the card is already activated, so they can use it immediately after setting the PIN.

In contrast to a Virtual First strategy, the Digital First product provides a physical card to all of your customers, regardless of their behavior.

Digital First process

  1. You and Galileo set up a Digital First product.
  2. Your customer goes to your app or web site and signs up for the product.
  3. You create the customer account.
  4. The card is created in an active state.
  5. You retrieve a digital version of the physical card and present it to the customer in your app or on a web page. The customer can see the PAN, CVV, and expiry. Alternatively, you provision the card to a mobile wallet.
  6. The physical card order is sent to the embosser.
  7. The customer uses the digital card for purchases and other purposes.
  8. The physical card arrives in the mail, and the cardholder can use it immediately after setting the PIN.

See Setup for Digital First for more information.

Card product comparison

This table summarizes the characteristics of Galileo card products.

PersonalizedInstant IssueVirtualDigital First
Physical cardXXX
Digital cardXXX
Issued to individualXX*XX
Non-personal issuanceX
Embossed in bulkX
Embossed on-demandXX
Mobile wallet supportXXX
Use immediately after issueXXX
Can be reissuedXXX
Universal merchant acceptanceXX**X

* For reloadable debit cards but not gift cards.
** When configured to be universal.

Use cases

Depending on your goals for your card, you can employ these suggested strategies or you can devise strategies of your own.

Provide an innovative banking experience

If one of your primary goals is to innovate, you can reflect your unique choices with these types of offerings:

  • Personalized cards — Provide a spend-anywhere card, with or without customized images
  • Physical cards — Let your imagination run wild to design a memorable sensory experience
  • Digital cards — Take your card-payment solution online
  • Digital First — Combine the immediate utility of a digital card with a physical presence
  • Mobile wallet support — Satisfy cardholder expectations for high-tech payment options

Help the underbanked make card payments

People without conventional bank accounts have a hard time taking advantage of the vast card-payment infrastructure. Many of them receive paper paychecks or government benefits that they convert to cash, and then must carry and distribute in cash form, which is vulnerable to loss and theft.

In one scenario, you have check-cashing services at your store, so you offer to load checks onto instant-issue debit cards:

  • The customer has a card in hand to use immediately.
  • If you have a special machine you can emboss the name on the card in the store.
  • The reloadable card incentivizes the cardholder to become a repeat customer.

In another scenario you are a payroll company, so you issue reloadable instant-issue cards to your payment recipients instead of cutting checks or using direct deposit. Because the cards are reloadable, you can load the recipients' funds onto the cards periodically, and the recipients can spend the funds immediately instead of waiting for ACH holds to expire or having to go to a bank to cash the check.

  • Loading cards is more secure than issuing checks for both you and the recipient.
  • Issuing checks can be expensive, and keeping track of each check is labor-intensive.
  • Issuing a card is easier than setting up direct deposit, especially among the underbanked.

Provide businesses with an easy way to pay vendors

If you're in the B2B space, you can help businesses make secure payments to their vendors by issuing virtual cards that are used one time only. A business sends a virtual card to a vendor with the owed amount loaded on it, and the vendor arranges with the card network to move funds from the virtual card into the vendor's central account. Once the funds are transferred, the card is canceled.

In another case, your customer is a small business that needs to purchase a big-ticket item for the business. Your customer asks you for a loan, and instead of mailing a check or waiting for an ACH transaction to clear, you issue a one-time use virtual card for the purchase amount. Your customer pays for the item with the virtual card, and the card is then canceled. Later, the customer pays you back in installments. Alternatively, you can make the virtual card valid for multiple purchases, and the card is canceled when card balance reaches 0.00.

Using virtual cards for B2B payments has these advantages:

  • Paying with a card is more secure than writing paper checks.
  • Setting up ACH transfers can be complicated, and the transfers take several days.
  • Record-keeping with cards can be more detailed and automated than with other methods.

Encourage potential customers to try your product

Let's say you offer a DDA product with a debit card as well as associated savings, overdraft, and early paycheck deposit. To introduce customers to your product suite, you set up displays in store locations with impressively designed instant-issue cards that have $50 preloaded on them. You issue the cards to customers on the spot, and after they demonstrate the intention to stick with your product, you switch them to personalized cards with the full suite of products.

  • The customer has a card in hand to use immediately.
  • The preloaded funds are an incentive to start engagement.
  • The impressive card design entices potential customers to sign up.

Distribute gift or rewards cards

Your customer wants to stimulate interest in their business by distributing gift cards. The cards are in denominations of $20, $50, and $100 and are sold at retail outlets in cardboard carriers.

  • Recipients of the gift cards can use them immediately.
  • Recipients often purchase more than the gift-card's value.
  • Recipients may become return customers.
  • Unused, expired funds are retained by the issuer.
  • The cards' denominations are customizable.

In another case, your customer is a business that wants a convenient way to provide rewards to their employees, so you distribute a reloadable instant-issue card to each employee.

  • When it's time to hand out bonuses, the business loads the amount onto the card.
  • The company can repeatedly load bonuses on the card.
  • Employees can spend the money immediately instead of waiting for an ACH hold to expire or having to cash a check.
  • The business has detailed records on each card load and the card's spending record.
  • As needed, the business can freeze or cancel a card on demand.

Enable corporate spending accounts

Your customers are companies that want to distribute cards to their employees to make business-related purchases. For example, your customers might be small businesses that want to distribute charge cards to their employees instead of dealing with expense reports.

Both physical and digital cards can make good corporate spending cards. Galileo offers several options to help corporations limit how their cards are used—such as limiting where and when the cards are valid—as well as putting spending restrictions on each account.

For more information, see Business Banking Enhancements.

Provide specialized fleet cards

Mastercard offers specialized fleet-card BINs that provide enhanced authorization, clearing and reporting capabilities. Fleet-card issuers can receive data such as driver ID or vehicle ID both at the time of authorization and at settlement. Galileo parses the fleet data that Mastercard provides and then passes it to you so that you can perform detailed expense analysis. Fleet cards can be issued to individual drivers or they can be associated with a vehicle. See Fleet Cards for more information.