Plastic personality: Unique cards in the UK and beyond

By Benjamin Salisbury

Almost 40 years after the Sex Pistols exploded onto the punk music scene, Virgin, one of the band's former record labels, has launched a range of Sex Pistols credit cards "to bring a bit of rebellion to your wallet".

The new card follows in a tradition of credit card providers trying to entice consumers by offering "something different", such as a Visa cards designed to look like an audio cassette, football club credit cards and Kung Fu Rabbit cards issued in China. There was even a credit card issued for members of The International Brotherhood of Magicians, though it has now disappeared. unique-cards

"Some credit cards are issued in partnership with other organisations, a trend which first emerged back in the 1990s," Giles Mason, media relations manager at the UK Cards Association, said in an emailed response to questions. "These include affinity cards, issued on behalf of charities and other organisations such as football clubs and universities. With these, the card company often makes a donation when the card is issued or each
time it is used, at no extra cost to the cardholder."

Though many credit card companies allow customers to personalise their cards with their own designs, there are often strict rules enforced to ensure any image does not fall foul of copyright infringements. Card issuers try to attract customers by offering products that people want, including personalised cards or those aimed at a market niche.

Niche designs
Whatever your particular taste, there is likely a credit card for you to share your passions with the world -- or there was at some point. For instance, credit card companies have issued Pac-Man cards, and a host of designs based on The Simpsons and Hello Kitty. In the US, Visa issued a range of hit designs based on the popular online game World of Warcraft.

Some designs are not associated with particular brands, but have unique designs nonetheless, such as a leopard print card, a Visa card with a set of teeth on its face or the Capital One card that features a sloth in space.

Finally, all of the major UK football clubs and most Premier League clubs, along with a few others, have their own team-branded credit cards, many provided by MBNA.

Unique rewards
Some credit cards try to gain a competitive edge by offering unique rewards instead of visual designs.

For instance, according to a Bankrate article, American Express once offered a home lie detector if you spent up to $57,000 on an American Express Gold Card -- or you could get an outdoor inflatable movie screen after spending $20,000.

With football cards, you can earn points that you can redeem for club merchandise. Additionally, you may receive discounts on team merchandise when you use the cards.

Exclusive cards
Some cards are unique in that they are exclusive --  only those with the most spending power can hold them.

For instance, American Express offers its Centurion Card, or Black Card, which comes with an initiation fee of $7,500 and an annual fee of $2,500 in the US. In the UK, you cannot access the terms of the Centurion Card until you apply -- and you must receive an invitation to do so.

NatWest used to offer a Black MasterCard. Though it is no longer available, the card had a minimum limit of£15,000 and an annual fee of £250. To be eligible for the card, you had to be 25 or older, and earn at least £75,000 annually.

Finally, Coutts, the Queen's bank, has its Silk card, available only to Her Majesty and very few others, and it's rumoured that you must have more than £1 million in your Coutts account to be eligible. Owners of a Silk card must pay the entire balance each month, and those who don't meet the £50,000 annual spending limit will pay a £350 annual fee.

See related: Plastic with prestige: Cards that signal wealth status, Giving back with your credit card

Published: 26 June 2015