Differentiation is a cornerstone of card
issuing profitability models, and functions as an effective
customer acquisition tool. Innovative visual design has helped La
Caixa to become a leading player in Spain’s cards market.
Justin Bandy reports.

Barcelona-based savings bank La Caixa is a major player in the
Spanish cards market. The bank has a 13 percent share of the
Spanish cards market in terms of cards outstanding, and claims to
have a 17.6 percent market share of card purchases in Spain. A
major factor behind its success has been the emphasis placed on
card design. The bank offers a variety of design options that can
be divided into six general categories: famous paintings, colours,
transparent cards, geographic locations, horoscopes and
non-rectangular designs.

Thinking outside the box

Of its six card options, probably the most unusual is its
non-rectangular card design category. While all cards from any
issuer worldwide have a flat bottom to conform with accepted design
standards, La Caixa has altered the tops and sides of many of its
cards to allow for a greater range of shapes. The bank’s rounded
cards are especially popular as prepaid gift cards. For these
cards, the right and bottom portion of the card resembles a
traditional credit or debit card, while the left portion contains a
circular image that extends beyond the rectangular confines of the
upper-left part of the card. Examples of images include footballs,
fried eggs, doughnuts, and a pan filled with paella, a traditional
Spanish dish.

La Caixa offers other card shapes, such as non-rectangular cards
with animal themes in which the top of the card has an irregular
shape that corresponds with the profile of an animal. Another
offbeat offering is its comb card, which has the image of a comb
and a serrated top that mimics the teeth of a comb. One card has
the image of a chocolate bar with the upper left-hand corner
removed to suggest someone has taken a piece.

La Caixa also uses innovative graphic design for its conventionally
shaped cards. The bank offers more than 1,000 pre-designed images
for its cardholders to choose from, some of which reproduce a
recognisable image. Customers can choose from four famous paintings
by Van Gogh, da Vinci, Gauguin and Goya to use as their card image.
The bank also lets customers choose a picture of a landmark or
cityscape to put on the front of their card. Examples include
internationally recognisable structures such as Stonehenge, the
Eiffel Tower and the Great Wall of China, as well as pictures of
the city centres of a variety of Spanish cities. Other options for
cardholders include choosing a solid colour for their card, a
transparent card, a card designed to look as if it were made of
denim or a card celebrating a certain horoscope sign.

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Also, La Caixa allows customers to put an image they design
themselves on the front of the card. For a fee of €2.70 ($3.50),
customers can submit a digital photograph of specified dimensions
for their card design.

La Caixa has over 750,000 personalised cards in circulation, and
has said that this option is particularly popular among businesses
that wish to have corporate cards with proprietary logos.

In 2003 La Caixa began offering a mini card that is 40 percent
smaller than normal cards. The bank claims to be the pioneer of the
mini card in any European market. The mini card comes with a hole
so it can be used in key chains, and can be designed in many of the
same ways as standard- sized credit and debit cards.

Customers can carry more than one card linked to the same account.
The bank introduced the ‘tandem card’ concept to Spain, whereby the
card account holder, as well as any additional individuals on the
account, is given the option of having up to four cards with
different designs. This lets a customer use a different card for
different occasions.

La Caixa has announced plans to gradually adapt all of its cards so
that the estimated 300,000 Spaniards with vision problems can more
easily use them. As part of this initiative, it will remove a tiny
semi-circle of plastic from the right edge of its cards so that
customers can orient their card properly by touch. This feature
will also be useful for individuals without vision problems. “At a
highway toll booth or in another situation that requires quickness,
[this innovation] will let cardholders hold their card on the
correct side,” said a spokesperson for the bank.

La Caixa has also equipped its ATMs with the Braille lettering
system and allows customers to increase the size of text at its
ATMs if they are having trouble reading.

Solid growth

A major area for growth for the bank has been affinity cards. The
bank has more than 150 affinity card programmes with more than 2.4
million co-branded cards issued. La Caixa has also been active in
issuing gift cards. Since they were introduced in 1999, La Caixa
has issued more than 160,000 Visa gift cards. Cards are available
for both existing bank customers and non-clients. The bank offers a
number of its design options for the cards that are divided into
categories such as birthdays, Christmas and weddings. For example,
a birthday-themed gift card might come with a picture of a
chocolate cake on it. The bank also has more than 250,000 corporate
cards.