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.