Visa Inc. commonly referred to as VISA, is a multinational corporation based in San Francisco, California, USA. The company operates the world's largest retail electronic payment network, managing payments among financial institutions, merchants, consumers, businesses and government entities. Before Visa Inc's IPO in early 2008, it was operated as a cooperative of some 21,000 financial institutions that issued and marketed Visa products including credit and debit cards.
In 2006, according to The Nilson Report, Visa held 44% of the credit card market share and 48% of the debit card market share in the United States.
In 1958, Bank of America launched its pioneering BankAmericard credit card program in Fresno, California. The product idea was that of a bank branch manager, who stopped by a local store and observed clerks in a back room preparing customers' monthly bills. It struck him as inefficient to spend so much time (and money) to prepare and collect bills that were often for paltry amounts, and he wondered if the process could be efficiently centralized, with his bank's computer preparing the bills in off-hours. The original goal of the company was to offer the system across California; however in 1965 the bank began subscribing licensing agreements with a group of banks outside of California. Over the following 11 years, various banks licensed the card system from Bank of America, forming a network of banks backing the BankAmericard system across the United States.
During this same time period, licences for the BankAmericard system also started to be implemented in other countries. For example:
In 1970, Bank of America gave up control of the BankAmericard program. The various BankAmericard issuer banks took control of the program, creating National BankAmericard Inc. (NBI), an independent non-stock corporation which would be in charge of managing, promoting and developing the BankAmericard system within the United States, although Bank of America continued to issue and support the international licenses themselves. By 1972, licenses had been granted in 15 countries. In 1974, IBANCO, a multinational member corporation, was founded in order to manage the international BankAmericard program.
In 1976, the directors of IBANCO determined that bringing the various international networks together into a single network with a single name internationally would be in the best interests of the corporation; however in many countries, there was still reluctance to issue a card associated with Bank of America, even though the association was entirely nominal in nature. For this reason, in 1977 BankAmericard, Chargex, Barclaycard, Carte Bleue, and all other licensees united under the new name, "Visa", which retained the distinctive blue, white and gold flag. NBI became Visa U.S.A., and IBANCO became Visa International.
The term Visa was conceived by the company's founder, Dee Hock. He believed that the word was instantly recognizable in many languages in many countries, and that it also denoted universal acceptance. Nowadays, the term VISA has become a recursive backronym for Visa International Service Association.
In October 2007, Bank of America announced it was resurrecting the BankAmericard brand name as the "BankAmericard Rewards Visa.
On October 3, 2007, Visa completed its corporate restructuring with the formation of Visa Inc. The new company was the first step towards Visa's IPO. The second step came on November 9, 2007, when the new Visa Inc. submitted its $10 billion IPO filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). On February 25, 2008, Visa announced it would go ahead with an IPO of half its shares. The IPO took place on March 18, 2008. Visa sold 406 million shares at US$44 per share ($2 above the high end of the expected $37-42 pricing range), raising US$17.9 billion in the largest initial public offering in U.S. history. On March 20, 2008, the IPO underwriters (including JP Morgan, Goldman, Sachs & Co., Banc of America Securities LLC, Citi, HSBC, Merrill Lynch & Co., UBS Investment Bank and Wachovia Securities) exercised their overallotment option, purchasing an additional 40.6 million shares, bringing Visa's total IPO share count to 446.6 million, and bringing the total proceeds to US$19.1 billion. Visa now trades under the ticker symbol "V" on the New York Stock Exchange.
The names of the two protocols use the arbitrary "debit" and "credit" from accounting meaning left and right, and they originally had the meanings (and still do to many people) that with credit the cardholder pays later for the purchase, and with debit the cardholder pays immediately. The truth today is that they are merely two different protocols, with which there is still considerable confusion, and even lawsuits over the definitions of products for purposes of antitrust law. Banks can use independent methods to actually recover the money paid for purchases, regardless of which protocol is used. For example, the debit protocol can be used to incur a debt to the bank, and the credit protocol can be used to take money from a checking account.
The debit protocol involves using the card at a point of sale terminal (POS) or automated teller machine where the PLUS or Interlink logo is shown, with a Visa card that has the PLUS or Interlink logo on the back of the card. A PIN (personal identification number, known by its acronym) is used to identify the cardholder. The money is deducted from the attached checking account or prepaid account (which is similar with no paper check-writing capability).
The credit protocol involves using the card at a POS or a banking center where the Visa logo is shown. A PIN (Personal Identification Number) is generally used for identification, although if the card is not suitably equipped then the cardholder's signature is often used, at the retailer's discretion, sometimes with other locally accepted identifcation.
Holders of any Visa card may use the credit protocol even if the card is marketed as a debit card or prepaid card (basically since it has the Visa logo on the front of the card). One source of confusion is the merchant may ask "debit or credit?" even though the words are not defined that way in most dictionaries and even though the card may say "debit card" right on it, and still be available for "credit" transactions. In this way it is a misnomer that the credit cards are only for loans or that the debit protocol is only for checking accounts. Banks actually choose various backend methods of handling the accounts, making "debit" a generic synonym for "Plus/Interlink" (and the equivalent competitive networks), and "credit" a generic synonym for "Visa" (and MasterCard, American Express, Discover Card, which have similar systems).
In September 2007, Visa introduced Visa payWave, a contact-less technology feature that allows cardholders to wave their card in front of contact less payment terminals without the need to physically swipe or insert the card into a point-of-sale device.
The Visa symbol is used by merchants to denote the acceptance of Visa payment cards.
In 2006 Visa removed its trademark "flag" logo from all its cards, websites and retailer's windows. This was the first time that Visa has changed its logo.
The new logo has a simple white background with the name VISA in blue with an orange flick on the 'V' (shown above).
On most Visa cards, holding the face of the card under an ultraviolet light will reveal the dove picture, as an additional security test. (On newer Visa cards, the UV dove is replaced by a small V over the Visa logo.)
Beginning in 2005, the Visa standard was changed to allow for the hologram to be placed on the back of the card, or to be replaced with a holographic magnetic stripe ("HoloMag"). The HoloMag card was shown to occasionally cause interference with card readers, so Visa eventually withdrew designs of HoloMag cards and reverted to traditional magnetic strips.
Until 2005, Visa was the exclusive sponsor of the Triple Crown thoroughbred tournament.
Visa sponsored the 2007 Rugby World Cup
Visa settled a lawsuit brought by a class of U.S. merchants, including Wal-Mart, for billions of dollars in 2003. According to a website associated with the suit, Visa and MasterCard settled the plaintiffs' claims for a total of $3.05 billion, and Visa's share of this settlement is reported to have been the larger. As of early 2005, it is expected to have raised its interchange rate from 1.634% to 1.99%, which can be expected to affect the discount rates paid by retail locations to the banks with which they deal.