Virtual cards

Promoted by a discussion on the Monzo community about whether we really need physical cards these days, I was wondering if you could get ahead of the curve on the migration to Visa?

In response to the suggestion of a bank account without a physical card, I said:

I’m not sure that it should be an either/or thing. Imagine during the sign up flow being asked if you want a physical or virtual card (with the option to get a physical one later if you want).

Better environmental credentials, lower cost, no one misses out and new sign ups can get a brand new, fully functioning account in minutes. What’s not to like?

This got me thinking. To expedite the move from Wirecard could you issue virtual Visa cards so that we can just them online and via Android/Apple Pay etc? Then follow up with physical cards later.

(This is probably in the category of “sounds easy but behind the scenes isn’t possible right now” - but I thought I’d throw it out there anyway).


It may actually be down to the block of credit card numbers that the company has for assigning to customers / cards and not the actual physical cards.

So when companies are small they use part of a block of bigger numbers from a company like wirecard and potentially use their Infrastructure if required for processing payments.


Thanks (again) @Peter

I think we’ve mentioned this, but the updated Dozens app will be able to support virtual cards and we will be able to give more details about this soon.

As a matter of interest, I would love to hear what other members here think of an account with virtual cards, particularly if this was where virtual cards were a default option and a physical card would be optional.

Here is a past, relevant discussion:

Would you think less of an account if it did not come with a physical card from the start? Or would this be seen as a positive move?

Then if virtual cards were available, would you use these instead or physical cards, or do virtual cards have only specific uses (such as online shopping for example)?

How would you use yours?

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An interesting and timely question especially as some fintechs (Curve, TransferWise, Revout) seem to be moving in the direction of only issuing physical cards on request (and charging for them).

In my mind, there are two types of virtual card - those which use NFC/x-Pay and those which are ‘disposable’/one off numbers.

It wouldn’t bother me if a plastic card was not issued by default but am opposed to an organisation charging a fee for a physical card l. I know some also consider it ‘greener’ not to issue plastic cards which might not be used.

However, there are a number of reasons why it’s still desirable for customers to have access to physical cards rather than using NFC such as:

a) Merchants/Countries which don’t accept contactless Payments or Google/Apple Pay including things like most ATMs/Petrol Stations/Toll Roads;

b) phones which don’t support NFC (some quite modern don’t including mine);

c) reassurance against phone batteries dying and/or phones being lost/stolen etc…

One off/disposable virtual cards for me on the other hand are more of a niche feature and would only be used by me if I didn’t trust a retailer or thought there was a risk they might try to take more than they were entitled too.

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It’s actually not that rare nowadays, you have the likes of Revolut and Monese, that issue a Virtual card for free and then charge you if you want a physical card, there are a few others that do the same. Transferwise another big name, no card on account opening, you have to order one.

A bank that offers virtual card at account opening, with the option of a physical card would be something that would be appealing especially to those that care about the environment, and those that just would never use a physical card.


I like this idea. I think it’s a win/win if the physical card is optional, but free.

I also like the idea of additional physical/virtual cards (for a fee?) linked to different spending buckets - a cross between Monzo pots and the Starling card you can give to a friend thing. I think we kind of have that with the Investor cards at the moment?

I think there are actually three: a standard card (with full number, CVV etc) that only exists virtually. Disposable ones (use once etc) and then the x-pay ones (which I think of as a whole different category).

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Thanks all - this is very interesting feedback

Thanks for these examples and issues. I don’t think we can really solve for people’s choices of devices or charging habits. Certainly the way technology is developing, NFC devices (including wearables), battery life and recharging solutions are already available, so I would hope that individuals would make relevant choices here - though maybe emergency solutions would be handy.

What about the issue of ATMs (and access to cash) in particular? While the number of ATMs that can handle this is increasing, the rise of virtual cards is probably faster, and I doubt we will be seeing a large investment in upgrading older ATMs for the foreseeable future. Access to cash is still an important issue for us and our customers.

The other issue will be when travelling, particularly for countries where contactless is still less common, or where signature strips and/or magstrips (!) might be required? I would be concerned that those who’ve become used to contactless in the UK will not necessarily be aware they may need to ensure they have a card available.

Both of these are an issue of transition though, from older models to newer ones, and will eventually become less important.

What I think would be interesting to consider are the positive reasons for this. Not only would we be less reliant on printing and distributing plastic, but we might use virtual cards in new ways.

For example:

This could be one possibility, though it would need to be managed well (and not have a confusing number of cards for a user to manage).

Are there other ideas for creative ways to use virtual cards? Maybe cards with different spending limits, or personalised notification settings for different cards?

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I think the UK is only 2nd or 3rd behind Sweden when it comes to being a cashless society. The COVID19 lockdown has forced many businesses and customers to embrace contactless, internet banking, mobile banking, etc but there will always be a few people for whom a physical card and cash remains the only option. Increasingly, I think any inertia moving towards cashless transactions will diminish rapidly amongst the small business community but there remains the problem of customers who, for one reason or another, stick to cash. Personally, I don’t think the way cashless front-ends are designed help or encourage these customers to make the transition (especially amongst the elderly or people with disabilities).

I have only ever seen a few NFC-enabled ATM’s and I don’t see their numbers growing any time soon. MasterCard now allow card issuance without signature strips - is this an option on VISA? The magnetic strip problem is easily resolved by an in-app toggle to switch the feature on/off. Using geolocation, the app could remind customers who have travelled to a “mag-strip” country to toggle the feature.

I think there are many unexplored creative uses for both physical and virtual cards. Separately managed cards, with their own spending limits, notification settings, MCC restrictions, etc would be useful for families (parent/child), people with mobility issues (service user/care-giver) and, of course, during lockdown person-self-isolating/shopping-volunteer. Recently, I would have found a secondary card with a set limit useful to give my plumber (who was fitting a new bathroom) so that I didn’t need to drive to his suppliers to settle the account. Combining the concept of secondary cards and wearables, a small NFC fob could replace the metal capsule currently on my car keys that contains bank notes for use in an emergency (like running out of petrol).

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I would like to have just one physical card that can be linked to any “bucket” of money (account, pot, whatever you want to call it). I don’t think getting rid of physical altogether would work, if the aim is to have all your spending in dozens.

bunq is the only bank I know that does dual PIN, so you can link two accounts to the same card, then use a different PIN to spend from each account. Very handy if you have personal/joint, for example.

Traditional banks are absurdly wasteful with cards. Just got a new Halifax card to replace an expiring one that has probably only been used 5 times, and only once that I can remember that wasn’t online… :joy:

One physical card, one virtual card and one disposable card would cover it all for me.

Providing the physical card details or a virtual card as soon as you open your account is a no-brainer - still impresses customers moving from legacy banks and removes the boring wait time between signing up and actually using all the features