The Three Universal Truths Of Debit Card Adoption

Do you remember your “watershed” moment with a debit card? Was it a time that you had to use a debit card for an online payment, or possibly because no other option was available?

If so, you fit into a five-step framework that describes how consumers gradually adopt debit cards over time. Understanding these steps is hugely important for credit unions looking to maximize performance and returns from existing membership bases.

Such are the findings of the Segment Solutions Team at MasterCard Advisors: a group dedicated to providing card payment and consulting services to local bank and credit union segments across the globe.

Margaret Shine serves as group head for this Advisors team, and spoke with about the “universal truths” she’s discovered through her team’s work in the debit industry, and why credit unions should take note.

Shine said that through her work on white papers, presentations at the World Council of Credit Unions and practical experience in working with local banks, she and the Advisors team have unearthed common trends. 

In terms of the common “watershed” moment, Shine explained the importance of getting consumers to understand the advantages that debit cards truly provide over cash, and how it’s the first step in a chain reaction that can eventually lead to regular debit use. 

“Customers and cardholders really need to overcome some very strongly-held perceptions that they have around cash,” Shine explained. ”Specifically, this idea that cash provides more control, more security, and it’s somehow easier to use.”

Shine noted that credit unions have to deal with a wide breadth of demographics when servicing their members, and understanding how such groups differ plays a significant role in encouraging debit use.

According to Shine, in emerging markets, debit cards are mainly used as a means to withdraw cash from an ATM. In more mature markets, consumers tend to use debit cards as a “substitute for cash” at the point of sale.

Yet no matter the market, one of the biggest conclusions Shine reached is that debit card behavior occurs according to a “five-step framework” that begins with very limited debit use, progresses to incremental use and finally becomes regular use based on a couple of key factors.

All of this knowledge has led Shine to what she terms as three “universal truths” that apply to debit card users who belong to credit unions.

The first truth is that consumers “will always look for ways to control or manage spending.” According to Shine, this management is fulfilled by cash at lower steps and is fulfilled by debit cards at higher steps within the framework.

The second truth is that increased debit card usage doesn’t eliminate the need for cash entirely, but rather mitigates it. In Shine’s terms, debit makes cash a “less prominent component of a person’s wallet.”

Finally, the last truth is that many consumers often don’t understand the security features that come with debit cards, even though fraud and loss are primary influences in debit card usage overall.

That last truth, in particular, opens up a huge opportunity for credit unions to increase debit card use across multiple consumer groups.

“There really is an opportunity to disrupt, if you will, how the consumer currently uses or view their money management approach, and highlighting debit as a means by which to do that.”

To hear more Shine on debit card adoption, the difference between credit unions and major FIs, MasterCard Advisors, and more, listen to the full podcast below.


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Margaret A. Shine
Group Head for the Segment Solutions team at MasterCard Advisors

Margaret Shine is the Group Head for the Segment Solutions team at MasterCard Advisors. She launched this newly formed global business in early 2011, responsible for developing and executing Advisors’ global strategy for small banks and emerging markets. Ms. Shine’s focus is on defining the solutions, sales and delivery channels and the customer experience that will differentiate MasterCard in this segment.

Prior to this role, Margaret was Senior Vice President on the Citibank North America Account Team for MasterCard Worldwide responsible for the North America business sales strategy During her tenure on the team she developed and executed significant business growth initiatives such as the launch of Citi’s debit card program, expansion & upgrade of the Citi / AA affluent product set, securing impactful new card launch and / affluent portfolio conversions, and the strategic implementation of Diner’s Club North America for MasterCard.

Earlier at MasterCard, she consistently held positions of increasing responsibility in the Sales / Account Management organization. Margaret’s contributions included introducing key brokerage account programs, launching new co-branded products, expanding consumer and small business acquisitions programs, and introducing debit and on-line banking programs.

Margaret earned a liberal arts B.A. from Fordham University and resides in Fairfield County, Connecticut with her husband and two children.