Banks May Be Wasting Hundreds Of Millions Of Dollars On Metal Credit Cards

This maker of metal credit cards has more than tripled its revenue in five years to over $260 million. They (self-interestedly) argue that consumers move metal cards to top of wallet, and shift their spend onto those cards. Behavior by American Express, Chase, and Capital One – using metal on cards, and indeed more and more cards – suggests they believe this is true. The CEO of Composecure makes the pitch for metal cards.

Twenty years ago there was only the Amex Black Card. Now there are at least two dozen cards heavier than standard plastic, probably many more. Even the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card clocks in at the weight of a Sapphire Reserve card.

When everyone’s cards are metal, it’s no longer driving share shift and becomes purely defensive. You don’t want your cards to look cheap!

Metal cards are no longer special, since they’re so common. When they were first available they felt nice in the wallet and in the hand, and they said “this is a unique card.” It was a conversation piece, which is exactly what issuers wanted:

  • to make customers feel good about their card
  • so they’d want to pay with the card
  • and even talk about it (the best salespeople are customer evangelists)

Sure, some people delighted in marveling store clerks, which is awkward at best. But mostly it was about a person’s personal narrative that the card said something about them (a non-metal card, Barclays’ old Arrival+, promoted “I’ve Arrived”).

However I don’t remember the last time a metal card caused a reaction of a raised eyebrow. If you’re looking to feel better about yourself impressing a store clerk it’s just not going to do that very often anymore, probably because store clerks have seen so many of them now and possibly because trying to hard to impress them just makes you look like a jerk.

Still, a quick search of TikTok shows that the young people do see metal credit cards as a status thing.

@fareedabedini Still got a long way to go but we on the right path 😉 #moremoneymatters #creditcards #financialfreedom #creditscore ♬ original sound – Rene Lacad

So the question is, how should credit cards be designed? There’s still a need for physical cards, even as much of commerce moves online – where top of wallet is only metaphorical and you’re not impressing your online shopping cart. Even as many in-person payments get made via app. You want a card that doesn’t look cheap as a starting point, and cards still do attach to consumer identity. But metal doesn’t stand out.

Some issuers have let consumers customize the design of the card but that can lead to controversy when they choose designs that are polarizing or contrary to the issuer’s values. It’s also controversial when telling consumers they can design their card any way they want, except for the way that they want.

Maybe it’s still true that heft matters, but it’s not going to matter for long as in-person transactions are reduced and will continue to be less common even post-pandemic, and as in-person mobile wallet and tap to pay displaces carrying physical cards. That’s not to say physical card use goes away, but that the incremental value of card design and heft has certainly peaked.

Metal is so 2010s. American Express actually realizes this, going back to where metal started with the Centurion card doing artist-designed cards and Prada wearables which feels like it misses the mark for a more understated era, but maybe I’m wrong?

Regardless when so many cards are metal, metal is no longer unique. And when so many transactions are card not present, the physical manifestation of the payment mechanism influences card choice less.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. Life is going full circle. I remember my parents’ department store “charge plates,” which were metal embossed with numbers.

    Remember “Don’t leave home without it?” I’ve left my Amex Platinum at home so I wouldn’t have to take my wallet out of my pants before going through the airport metal detector. I never bring my metal Marriott Bonvoy card anywhere, since the account number is usually in my account and reservation.

    Compared to plastic, metal might be easier to recycle, when they expire, they don’t go through a typical office shredder. BTW, expiring credit cards are wasteful. Why not skip the expiration date and just deactivate them when the account is closed. The original Diners cards had no expiration date, but after a few acquisitions, they added expiration dates (and credit limits) and now they are virtually dead.

    Credit cards will eventually go the way of the land line, VCR, and walkman. Loved them when they were useful, no need for them now.

  2. I have to think that the FIRST metal card is the one that is most special. I remember getting my CSR and it being metal and felt like I arrived (I’m a millennial turning 30 today).

    Every other one I’ve gotten has been, “Meh.”

  3. I think this post is really not looking at a worldwide view. My metals cards get almost daily comments when shopping in Europe, South America and the Middle East. Constant comments about wealth and status of people with heavy cards. Sure it’s superficial but it definitely is a fun conversation at stores where the clerk asks about the card and I definitely wouldn’t pick a cheap plastic card over a nice feeling one. Just saying, while people here might disagree the average joe still cares.

  4. I have a metal Delta Reserve, my most used card is my Amex Gold plastic. So I guess I don’t fit the profile. I also use GooglePay via my Gold Amex for most transactions.

  5. Pathetic.

    I, truly, cannot even conceive of me deriving any sense of self-worth because I have a metal credit card* (yet obv can w/those who have centurions and obv disregard math to placate their fragile egos… hey, at least they get a five-ten dollar metal card in exchange for the laughably massive fees and amount$ that they are losing/foregoing/opportunity costing…). Obv, I can so conceive of others (waives to rang. rov., yeez., lv bags, diesl., warb. park., etc, etc, etc) buying crap quality for their sensitive ode to appearance. [incidentally, coming from one who is quite successful, incl wealthy… with perfect credit… these might be related 😉 ]

    My one, and only, experience with a metal card: amx “rose”: (obv maintaining their fraud to kenny c’s standards long after he is out, yet obv still pathetically being paid) = in fact, baby-shit brown*.

    * hehe: same asterisk for two situations: saving the lives of babies factually informs both perspectives 🙂

    Happy New Year, all!

  6. Oh, and, having lived, worked, spent on 5 continents: utterly pathetic… no matter upon which continent one spends..

  7. The only thing my Amex Platinum being metal does is make it easier to find in my pocket when taking the bus. I carry my cards/license/insurance cards loose because a wallet is too bulky and unnecessary. The Prime card being metal isn’t helpful because the purchases are on Amazon where it’s put before even getting the card and WholeFoods will soon have pay with the wholefoods app (where you get the prime discounts in store) with the stored prime card.

    The reality is most cashiers in a supermarket, drug store, or convenience store don’t know much about credit cards let alone which is harder to get and has more benefits. I doubt it is any different in department stores. Maybe a few sales people in Burberry or Hugo Boss will know.

  8. I thought metal CCs were nuts the first time one arrived. If you care about your ‘status’ in the minds of retail clerks, servers, hotel front desks … you got a bigger problem than what your CC is made of. Metal cards are ridiculous.

  9. Starts with the scientific “I don’t remember” and closes with the well-researched “a quick search of TikTok”.

    Thought leadership in action.

  10. A couple of things about metal cards. I sell and install point of sale systems and credit card devices. When metal cards came out, “tap” was not a thing. People would shove the metal cards into the credit card machine and break the guts. Two things about those signature capture devices: they retail for about $800, and when they’re sent out for repair (because someone broke it jamming in a metal card) the turnaround time for repair is 2-3 months, and costs a few hundred dollars. I’ve sent back 15 to 20 of them.

    Now, today, tap is a thing. I rarely insert a card, most everywhere is tap. The main exception to this is restaurants (and my restaurant card is the Citi Custom Cash for 5x, and it’s plastic).

  11. The metal Amex Platinum card was novel when it first came out, had heft, and was cool to look at and hold. (Cancelled it years ago but still/will keep it as a souvenir).

    The top two cards in my wallet nowadays (Chase Sapphire Preferred and Capital One Venture X) are both metal, which certainly beats plastic in terms of durability as much as coolness. Agree with @JOJO, having a plastic ATM or credit card crack in your wallet and need replacement after a few years is a bummer.

    I predict the next boost in “coolness” for premium metal cards will be ones made with tungsten.

  12. @JOJO – As do I. When the AmEx Gold was plastic, the top of my card literally started shearing off. I don’t have to worry about that with the current card.

  13. Much more handy to have so many options to scrape ice off my windshield this winter. Best ice scraper still the thick original Amex Centurion Card.

  14. When a clerk or server used to remark on the heft of my metal card, I would say, “It’s just a reminder of how much I’m going into debt by using it. The more I charge, the heavier the card gets.” That always got a laugh. Nowadays, nobody cares and overseas I use my watch to tap everywhere. The card never comes out of my wallet except in the US because we have such poor adaption of tap-to-pay.

  15. I have 3 metal cards and they are all at the bottom of my wallet: JPM Reserve, Amex Plat, and Amex Marriott Bonvoy. I keep them for certain perks but none are useful for everyday spend. Amex Blue Biz Plus and Chase Freedom Unlimited are at the top of my wallet for everyday spend.

  16. This speaks to me. When I got my metal CSR I thought “oh cool” and that was the end of it. Now I switched to a thin wallet and the metal card is harder to use than a traditional plastic one. Chase said there’s no option to get a traditional card so it went from “front of wallet” to “probably going to cancel it when the annual fee comes up.”

  17. You buried the lead. The company just went public via SPAC. (CMPO) They have also introduced a crypto cold storage solution that will someday tie your crypto assets to a POS terminal for spending crypto seamlessly, via a metal card. You would need to click on the first video to know anything about that. Where is the highly informative and enlightening content from the past. It seems all you want to do now is post clickbait. Some of us actually have a brain seeking growth. Be better.

  18. Like “Old guy”, I don’t take any of my metal cards on trips because they set off the magnetometer at airport security. Plastic works fine for my purposes.

  19. IMO the next meaningful/interesting credit “card” design trend will take place in Apple/Android virtual wallets. No more being locked into a boring-looking representation of the physical card… being able to choose or customize the image, etc.

    Who knows, maybe the designs won’t even have to look or be shaped like a card at all… pay using your favorite meme.

  20. @Justin Paying for vegetables at whole foods with a joe biden meme. I like it.

  21. Gary, some of us “younger folk”, 35 here, haven’t made it to our first metal credit card just yet. I have 6 cards, Marriott Boundless Chase, Freedom Unlimited Chase, Discover It, Citi Aadvantage Platinum Elite, and a couple store cards. Please stop encouraging the issuers to “save money” on stopping cool stuff. They won’t replace the money they “save” on giving better perks to members or higher referral links to bloggers. So it’s really a zero-sum endeavor. I’ll get there in the next year or so and hopefully have my first Metal Card to weigh down my wallet.

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