Many people do not remember that the current Visa card was introduced first in Fresno, as the Bankamericard. Such a humble birth, and now a behemoth of credit and broken hearts. I use the Visa card almost exclusively when travelling. Here is the story:
In September 1958, Bank of America launched a new product called BankAmericard in Fresno. After a troubled gestation during which its creator resigned, BankAmericard went on to become the first successful credit card; that is, a financial instrument which was usable across a large number of merchants and also allowed cardholders to revolve a balance (earlier financial products could do one or the other but not both). In 1976, BankAmericard was renamed and spun off into a separate company known today as Visa Inc.
I remember the day when the local Bank of America branch manager ( Mr. Dahl?) came out to my Father’s auto parts and repair business. He put a Bankamericard sticker on some windows, and gave us a card embosser after he enrolled my Dad’s business. Needless to say, nobody had a card, except for this man, or so it seemed. When he came to do some business with my Dad, he paid with his Bankamericard. He was the first customer to use the card there. Maybe he was the only one!
Truth be known, my Dad gave credit to almost all of his customers, and sent a monthly bill or statement to them on the first of the month. Of course, those who did not pay on time were not charge interest, as they would with Bankamericard. He would go out and collect when it was time for a family vacation! So, why would anyone sign up?
From this humble start, Visa is now the world’s largest creditor, other than the American government. Bank of America lost over $8.8 million in this new venture. The figure was more like $20 million factoring in overhead, advertising, and printing costs. It was in 1975 that the Visa name took over for various forms of the original card.
Today, Visa has about 40% of the market for credit card marketplace, and over 50% of the debit card marketplace. Its humble beginnings were in the greater Fresno area, at places like my Dad’s business.
I remember getting my first Bankamericard or MasterCard in 1968, when I was in college. I had no income, though I worked a few hours a week as an intern. That’s probably no different than today, when credit card companies practically mail them out to anyone who wants them. But it was fun to have “The Card.”
So, we can blame the Fresno area for rampant Viscarditis. The only cure is a transplant to cash and barter. It will not happen in my lifetime.