MasterCard International said its payment volume grew 24% last year to $172.4 billion.

The rise was the fastest since 1985 for the New York-based association. The biggest jump in the intervening years was 1993's 23%.

The number of MasterCard cards in circulation, including debit, grew 19.3%, to 147.6 million.

"We did a lot of right things, and we executed them well," said Daniel T. Murray, senior vice president of MasterCard's credit products group.

One venture he cited was MasterCard's sponsorship of the 1994 World Cup soccer tournament in the United States, which helped boost third-quarter volume by 25.7%. "That was a great success for us," he said, noting that MasterCard won an award from Brand Week for best sponsorship of the year.

In the fourth quarter of 1994, payment volume totaled $50.2 billion, 20.6% more than a year earlier.

"It was a complete effort with all of our products to reach this growth, with gold and cobranding leading the way," Mr. Murray said.

MasterCard said that cobranding was the most significant factor contributing to its growth in cards and volume in the United States last year.

Of the 498 cobranded and affinity cards launched in 1994, MasterCard said, 88.6% were branded MasterCard-only. These include the Sunoco Bank of America MasterCard and the Exxon GE Capital MasterCard programs.

The number of MasterCard cobranded cards in circulation grew 25% last year, against 17% growth for the association's noncobranded consumer cards. The 52 million cobranded MasterCard credit cards in circulation represent 40% of the association's U.S. portfolio.

Payment volume from cobranded credit cards rose 40%, to $72.5 billion for the year - 40% of all MasterCard payments.

The annual volume for MasterCard credit cards, including commercial cards, increased by 23.8%, to $169.9 billion. Gold card volume jumped 36.8%, to $61.6 billion for the year.

MasterCard's off-line debit product MasterMoney grew 60% by number of cards, to 4.8 million, and 37.1% by volume, to $2.5 billion. And its on- line product Maestro grew to 12 million cards in circulation, up from eight million a year earlier.

Mr. Murray said MasterCard's momentum has continued since it repositioned with the "Smart Money" campaign two years ago. "That's starting to burn in consumers' minds, and members like the repositioning."

In February, Visa U.S.A. reported growth rates slightly higher in most areas. Visa's total payment volume jumped 28% to $290.7 billion, while the number of cards rose 22.4%, to 205.7 million.

Visa said its gold card volume jumped 45.3% to $103.3 billion, and its annual volume from credit cards reached $167.6 billion, up 16.8%.

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